Punk Against Trump Fest - Live in Denver (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Punk Against Trump Fest

Live in Denver (2018)

live show

It was the day of the 2nd Annual Women’s March in Denver, where thousands of people descended on the city to stick it to one particular motherfucker whilst wearing hats inspired by female genitalia. For me it was a fun march with some of my friends, but as they weren’t punk friends, I had to leave them behind for the second half of my anti-Trump day of fire and fury as I headed to the epic show, Punk Against Trump featuring Anti-Flag, an eight hour concert with 10 “punk” bands (one of them stretched that definition a bit) in a marathon of a punk show that culminated in one of the most politically activist punk bands on the scene, Anti-Flag. But before we get into Justin, the Chrises, and Pat, let’s go over all the other bands that played the event, all of them lesser known than Anti-Flag, with quite a few diamonds in the rough.

First came Denver’s own Rotten Reputation, probably my favorite of the opening acts. At times hardcore, at times pop-punk, at times 50’s pop, Rotten Reputation kept things fresh at all times. They had a sort of sloppy quality to their playing, but surprisingly it worked very well for them. One of my favorite moments is how the lead singer courageously admitted that the band’s song “Kill Your Local Joker” was about her own sexual assault, and the band had even made t-shirts with that slogan on it. The one moment of their set that made me feel less than stellar was the piñata. Somehow they had found a piñata shaped like Trump and the lead singer called all the ladies in the crowd to come up front, promising something in the piñata that all ladies need and should get for free. Upon realizing that the piñata was full of tampons, I, a trans woman, had a moment of thinking “Oh, so not something for all ladies.”

Line Brawl was the next band up and, after Rotten Reputation’s varied and engaging set, Line Brawl’s completely generic, unvaried hardcore sounded like someone starting up and turning off a lawnmower. The one moment of variance came with their extremely ill-advised cover of Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge” that would have driven Op Ivy to reunite if they heard it, not to start playing music again, but simply to kick the crap out of Line Brawl for ruining their song.

The New Narrative had a bit of a hardcore sound, but a much lighter one than something like Line Brawl. They had a bro-y look to them, wearing newsboy caps and white t-shirts with their own names scribbled on them in marker. Honestly, they’re not going to change the world, but they were a refreshing change from the band before them.

Sharptooth was just weird, and not necessarily in a bad way. A female fronted melodic hardcore band, I was impressed by the band’s brazenness. They had a song ready made for the event called “Fuck You Donald Trump.” A few songs into the set, when talking about the #MeToo movement, for the second time that night, I heard a female lead singer talk on stage about her own sexual assault, and talk about how the next song was about that. At the very end of the show, I looked up to see the frontwoman topless, her breasts only covered in what looked like tape and stickers, and yet somehow it didn’t feel sexual but rather defiant, proud, and primal.

Next up was Allout Helter, a band that’s been getting some decent press around this site. I basically found them to be Propagandhi-lite, as further evidenced by their cover of Propagandhi’s “Fuck the Border.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Propagandhi are one of the most phenomenal punk bands on the planet right now, with their latest album Victory Lap taking the number two spot on our Punknews best albums of 2017 list. Even a high quality knock-off of Propagandhi like Allout Helter is going to be a good time. I especially appreciated the people on either side of the stage holding up signs with slogans like “Whose Streets?” and “American Kakistocracy.”

The White Noise was easily the most aptly named band at the whole show, delivering another set of hardcore so generic and unremarkable that I chose to use their set to go to the bathroom and feed my car’s meter.

Cheap Perfume was, in spite of their band name, a breath of fresh air. After a series of deathly serious hardcore acts, Cheap Perfume were serious about their politics, but playful about their music. In a particularly bold fashion move, their female lead singer chose to perform in a one-piece bathing suit. At one point in one of her songs, she catcalls men in the audience to make a point about sexual harassment. While she clearly feels passionate about the point she’s making, she also obviously hates doing it and feels socially anxious about it. She didn’t feel anxious about coming down into the crowd to start her own pit, though, which definitely added to the overall vibe, as did their brief cover of “Bad Reputation.”

Stray from the Path was absolutely awful. This is the one that I think was a stretch to call punk rock, because Stray from the Path is an early-2000’s style rap-metal band. Rap-metal, like the Vietnam War and that week when swing was poplar in the 90’s, is just one of those phenomenons in our culture that we’ve made an unspoken contract to pretend never happened and never talk about again, and here is Stray from the Path just flaunting their style like Chocolate Starfish never even happened. I was several PBRs in at this point, so I couldn’t help myself from screaming things like “You sound like Fred Durst” and “I’m really feeling those lighters.” The frontman was desperate to try to get the the audience to react, and it just stunk of despair. Asking the audience once or twice is one thing, but doing it between virtually every song comes off a bit desperate. He came out at the beginning trying to work up the crowd even before any music behind him yet. He continued to encourage people to “get on their feet” and to crowd surf, apparently not having gotten the memo that crowd surfing isn’t punk, but is for 14 year-olds at Imagine Dragons concerts.

Over Time provided a brand of hardcore that was bright and energetic, almost optimistic, as compared to someone like Inside Brawl. Their energy was frenetic and infectious, but I still took this opportunity during their set to hit the ladies room and feed the meter. It was when I was washing my hands in the bathroom that I came to regret it, as I heard the second Operation Ivy cover of the night, with Over Time launching into an inspired cover of “Unity” that put Line Brawl’s version of “Knowledge” to shame.

Then came Anti-Flag, who came right out of the gate with so much energy they could barely keep up with themselves. Their first song was “When the Wall Falls,” which they almost seemed to be starting halfway through. The song was powered through with power chords rather than the soft acoustic combined ska upstrokes found on the album version. I was surprised at how little they played off the new record, sticking to the original four singles: “American Attraction,” “The Criminals,” “When the Wall Falls,” and “Racists.” Even “Finish What We Started,” which the band recently shot a music video for, was left out of the set. Admittedly, with 10 studio albums, some material obviously has to be cut, but at the same time there are several whole albums that Anti-Flag never plays from at live concerts anymore, including The Bright Lights of America, The People or the Gun, or The General Strike. Instead the set was filled with the usual hits like “A Fabled World,” “Brandenburg Gate,” “This is the End,” “1 Trillion Dollar$,” “Die for your Government,” and “Drink Drank Punk.” It being the fourth time I saw them in two years, I’d gotten used to the same set list. What I wouldn’t give to see them once and be surprised to hear “The Economy is Suffering, Let it Die.”
Their stage banter was a little different than what I was used to, mainly because what’s going on in politics has significantly changed over the last few times I saw them. But the gimmicks stayed the same, with Pat’s drum kit being moved down to the audience for him to play from down there, although he did do it earlier in the set than normal and, unlike normal, didn’t do it for “Die for Your Government.” Still, there is that, as I’ve said before, military precision to Anti-Flag’s concerts, such that I’m sure the next show on their tour was exactly the same note-for-note, but it having been a while since I had seen them, it was nice to seem them vary up the routine. I will give them extra credit for, after their encore, giving the microphone to a representative from Defend J20 Resistance, a group fighting for the freedom of 230 people who were illegally arrested for protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Overall, there were hits and misses in this show, but I’m extremely happy I went. It was mostly a mix of local bands and bands that were touring with Anti-Flag anyway, and there were some artists that really caught my attention. In a fitting turn of events, the female fronted bands like Rotten Reputation, Cheap Perfume, and Sharptooth made the strongest impression. Anti-Flag put on a great, if rehearsed, show to tie it all together, and the spirit of resistance to Trump made for an electric energy. While this show won’t be touring as a whole, Stray from the Path, White Noise, and Sharptooth continue on with Anti-Flag for the Silence = Violence tour, so at least one good band is hitting the road with Anti-Flag. Anti-Flag once again show that, whatever the threat to the country, they’re ready to fight back.