Black Christmas 2017 - Live in Detroit (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Black Christmas 2017

Live in Detroit (2017)

live show

I’d been wanting to go to Black Christmas for a few years. The Suicide Machines’ annual holiday extravaganza always has an amazing lineup. Unfortunately, I rarely have any spare time or extra money so close to, you know, regular Christmas. I really didn’t have the time or money this year either, but I’m not getting any younger. Black Christmas took place at the Majestic Theatre complex in Midtown Detroit on Saturday, December 30th. This year, the Detroit-centric bill included the previously mentioned Suicide Machines, as well as Negative Approach, Bad Cop Bad Cop, Iron Reagan, Direct Hit!, Squirtgun, Cold As Life, Mustard Plug, Koffin Kats, Elvis Hitler and about ten more.

The action took place on three stages. There was the 1000 or so capacity Majestic Theatre, the 500 or so capacity Magic Stick upstairs, and the couple hundred capacity Majestic Cafe. The doors opened at 6:00, and I wanted to be there in time to catch Elvis Hitler at 6:15. The line was backed up to get in, so we didn’t quite make it. Once inside, we grabbed our first beer and heard a couple minutes of a cool Detroit hardcore band called Come Out Fighting. Then we headed directly upstairs to the Stick to catch most of EH’s half hour set. Most of the sets were 30 minutes until later in the evening when the bigger bands got a little more time.

I saw Elvis Hitler a couple of times in the 90’s, and always loved Disgraceland (1988) and Hellbilly (1989). The Detroit psychobilly great was even a college radio darling for a minute with “Green Haze”, the song that combined the music of “Purple Haze” and the lyrics of “Green Acres”. Jim Leedy (AKA Elvis Hitler) led the trio as they burned through a bunch of my favorites, including their big finish of “Green Haze”, “Cool Daddy in a Cadillac” and “Ten Wheels for Jesus”. My only regret is that I missed “Hellbilly”. There were not a lot of people there when EH started, but they were starting to show up in droves by the end of the set.

The next band on my agenda was Squirtgun, who I’d never seen. We slowly made our way back over to the theatre. Once the place started filling up, getting from room to room took a bit of effort. On the way, we caught a few minutes of Pure Hiss, a newer, noisy, female fronted hardcore band from Detroit. The singer really screams her guts out. I thought they were pretty cool. My friend was not impressed. When we got to the theatre, we ran into Direct Hit! guitarist/vocalist Nick Woods and had a nice chat about Dummerfest, the Galactic Cannibal reunion, and various other Milwaukee and Midwest scene stuff. We saw Nick a few more times over the course of the evening. His main concern always seemed to be that he didn’t miss Negative Approach.

Squirtgun, for this show, was being billed as the ‘Supersoaker’ lineup. It was Mass Giorgini on bass, Zac Damon on guitar, Dan Panic on drums, and Detroit native Kevin Sierzega on vocals. Between the four of them they had an impressive pedigree that included stints in Screeching Weasel, Teen Idols, The Queers, Riverdales, Common Rider, Groovie Ghoulies, Bullets to Broadway, Pansy Division and more. I didn’t really know any of the Squirtgun songs, but they included a few tunes from their other bands too. Common Rider’s “Classics of Love” was a big hit with the crowd. The highlight for me was when Dan Panic came out from behind the drum kit to sing the Screeching Weasel favorite “Guest List”.

When Squirtgun was done, I texted fellow Punknews staffer Greg Simpson to see if he still worked for Mass at Sonic Iguana. He does, so I name dropped him to strike up a conversation with Mass and his lovely wife. I’d never met Mass, but I’ve been a big fan of his production work for years. I told him so, and he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. At this point in the evening I’d had many PBR’s, and was definitely full of holiday cheer. I hope I didn’t come on too strong.

Direct Hit! played next, and they were awesome. The Milwaukee quartet’s 35 minute set really raised the roof. Their combination of pop punk and hardcore (or whatever it is) is definitely a winning formula. I had seen them for the first time earlier this year at Dummerfest, and I have definitely become a fan. They played some old stuff and some new stuff from their recently released split with PEARS. Their energy, aggression and catchiness is undeniable. I wish I’d started listening to Direct Hit! years ago.

Next, I waited around for Iron Reagan while my friend went back upstairs to see Mustard Plug. I love Mustard Plug. They’re from my stomping grounds of Grand Rapids and are great guys and a great band. They formed the year I graduated from high school, and I’ve seen them at least once a year since. Probably more than 30 times. I had seen them a month earlier with Descendents. I chose not to fight the crowds and risk missing part of IR. I skipped Koffin Kats later with similar reasoning. My friend reported that MP was excellent and that the room was packed.

I haven’t been shy about expressing my love for some of the newer thrash and crossover bands, and Iron Reagan might be my favorite. Their latest LP, Crossover Ministry, was definitely one of my very favorite records of 2017. They played a couple of songs from that album including crowd favorites like “Fuck the Neighbors” and “More War”. The huge pit right in front of the stage really opened up for Iron Reagan. At one point, after 24 minutes on stage, the band seemed to lose track of time and were going to stop. After being informed that they had more than ten minutes left, they finished strong. The biggest surprises of the set came toward the end in the form of a pair of inspired covers. First came the Aus Rotten classic “Fuck Nazi Sympathy”, then “Glue” by Boston hardcore legends SSD. Closer “Miserable Failure” was a highlight too.

After Iron Reagan, we ran back upstairs to check out Temple of Void. This Detroit death/doom quintet is heavy as hell. I’m fairly confident they were the heaviest band all night, and I enjoyed the little I saw of it immensely. We then went back down to the theatre for something completely different, Bad Cop/Bad Cop. I saw these four ladies earlier this year at the Van’s Warped Tour, and they kicked ass. They played a high energy set of pop punk for a room that was so crowded you could barely move. Everyone was loving it, but I had to leave my friend behind to head back upstairs for another must see band.

Negative Approach is the best and most influential hardcore band to come from Detroit. I would probably rank Cold As Life second. I had never seen them, and I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. Musically, Cold As Life is somewhere between NA and the early NYHC bands like Agnostic Front or Cro-Mags. They were the only band that really gave Negative Approach a run for their money intensity wise. Their pit might have been the most brutal all night. I’m no lightweight, but I stayed the hell away from it. I don’t know if the band has any original members at this point, but they still have the same hopeless, bitter, defiant spirit. Cold As Life is definitely not for the faint of heart. My friend showed up late and didn’t enjoy them at all, but for me, their set alone was worth the price of admission.

After Cold As Life, we headed back over to the biggest room to see the biggest draw of the night. On the way, I was very impressed by the little bit I saw of a newer punk band called Suburban Delinquents. Once back in the theatre, it was kind of surreal. Between bands they played old fashioned, traditional Christmas music. The sides of the stage were adorned with fully decorated trees, snowmen etc… The Suicide Machines played for a beyond packed house. This was my second time seeing SM this year. They Played on the same stage as Bad Cop/Bad Cop at Warped. As usual, frontman Jay Navarro spent at least half their awesome set down in the crowd. The sides and back of the stage were also lined with people wanting to see the band up close. I can’t think of another band with so many uplifting songs about depressing topics. There was no doubt that this night belonged to The Suicide Machines, even if I left a little early so I wouldn’t miss any of Negative Approach.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see Negative Approach several times since they reformed in 2006. Most of those times were in their hometown of Detroit. I actually saw them earlier this year at Dummerfest in Milwaukee. (No matter how many bad thing happened in 2017, a year where I saw NA twice can’t be all bad.) Despite their soothing incense burning on their amps, they delivered a set of extreme musical violence. The four guy in NA are fairly mild mannered off stage, but when they play they go to a different place. Again, the key word is intensity. If you look up hardcore in the dictionary, there should be a picture of John Brannon and company. We got to hear “Can’t Tell No One”, “Nothing”, “Ready to Fight” and a bunch more. What else can I say? Negative Approach is the best.

Break Anchor closed the night in the intimate cafe. I refused to leave Negative Approach early, so we missed most of their set. (I love BA, but I had just seen them last month. Plus, honestly, I don’t think they’re going anywhere. NA seems much more combustible.) I must also admit that at this point we were pretty loaded. Despite being late, we were treated to a couple oldies that the band doesn’t play very often anymore. “Long After” and “A Failure of Epic Proportions” were two of the band’s more gut-wrenching early singles. Break Anchor provided an amazing ending to an amazing night.

My overall impression was that Black Christmas is a very well run smaller music festival. They’ve had a few years to work out the bugs, and it shows. It was worth the three hour drive each way, hotel room, Uber rides etc... I feel a little guilty about missing most of the smaller bands in favor of the bigger ones, but that’s just the way it worked out. It almost felt like there were too many great bands. (Some complaint!) Still, I managed to see every band that needed to. Black Christmas is a great event, and maybe with a little luck I can make attending it a new annual tradition.

Confessions of a merch whore: I love to buy shit at shows. I’m always collecting new music and various other crap, and I like to help bands get down the road. When I went to Dummerfest in June and Warped in July, I didn’t bring enough money and was bummed by how much stuff I wanted but couldn’t afford. (You’ll be happy to know that I brought enough for beer.) This time I was prepared. I picked up the following full lengths: Cold As Life 1988-1993, Direct Hit! Brainless God, and Temple of Void Lords of Death. I got a single and an EP too: Cold As Life Suffer and Suburban Delinquents Dead & Gone. Last but not least, I got new patches from Elvis Hitler and Rawdogs. I even had enough left over for a couple of slices from Sgt. Pepperoni’s.