STATE/Bare Knuckle Hooligans/Bad Assets/ - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
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STATE / Bare Knuckle Hooligans / Bad Assets /

Live in Grand Rapids (2019)

live show

Just a few months ago, I was raving about a newer Grand Rapids venue called 741. They had been hosting free punk, metal and indie rock shows on the weekends, and had developed a pretty cool little community on the Westside of town. A few months later it’s gone, replaced by a country music bar. I believe this show was originally scheduled for that venue. Luckily, the nearby Flamingo Lounge (the Dirty Bird to locals) was willing to host the event. The Flamingo is a classic dive. As the yuppies from downtown continue to move further west, you can’t help but worry that places like this are going to be replaced by farm-to-table gastro pubs with $15 cheeseburgers. Or worse yet, another microbrewery.

I tend to write about the bigger shows I go to. After all, I want people to read what I write. Local bills are not likely to draw many national (or even international) eyes. That being said, I usually have as much or more fun at smaller shows. STATE, Bare Knuckle Hooligans, Bad Assets and The Bitters at the Flamingo Lounge on Saturday, June 15th was everything that’s good about being involved in your local punk scene. This show actually served three purposes. First and foremost, it was a killer punk, oi and hardcore show. Second, it was the birthday party for a local punk who is friends with pretty much everybody. (Even middle aged suburbanites.) Third, it was a reunion of some of the 741 faithful.

The stage at the Flamingo is in the back of the bar, and is only about six inches off the ground. The wall behind it is decorated with classic album covers from ZZ Top, AC/DC, Bob Seger and others. (There are less-than-classics by Journey and Peter Frampton too.) The ceiling is low, so things feel very intimate. You can stand right on top of the bands. You actually have get up front if you really want to see. The floor in front of the stage does not inspire great confidence, and bounces a bit when people start to dance. The drinks are strong and cheap, a reflection of the working class neighborhood.

The Bitters opened, and are the type of band that every halfway decent sized city should have. Older guys playing classic punk for all the right reasons. Between the four of them they’ve probably got a century of GR scene involvement. I’ve seen them dozens of times and always enjoy it. Anthems like “Fist City” (not the old country song), “In Punk We Trust” and “Bondage Boy” got the crowd sufficiently warmed up. Like most of the bands, they dedicated a song to the birthday boy. They also played one for the longtime local punk who set the whole thing up, but was unable to attend for health reasons. It’s a bummer that he wasn’t there in person to see what a success the show was.

Bad Assets were up next. They might be one of Detroit and the midwest’s best kept oi secrets, and are a personal favorite. The Motown quintet has two excellent full lengths and a couple of EPs under their belt. They are also an imposing looking group, with a couple of skinheads and a very large black singer. (Don’t let their looks fool you. They are all super nice guys.) By the time they went on, it was getting really hot in the crowded room. There was virtually no air flow. Three of the five dudes in Bad Assets decided to go shirtless. (I’m pretty sure they didn’t put their shirts back on for the rest of the night.) It didn’t make them all that easy to watch, but they sounded great.

They played a couple songs from The Spirit of Detroit (2012), and a few from their last LP, On Trial (2015). They even played a couple new ones, so hopefully fresh recordings are forthcoming. Their tales of growing up the hard way in the Detroit are undeniably compelling. (Check out “On Trial” or “Motor City Violence”.) They really got the crowd moving on the tiny dance floor. A few minutes of mixing it up revealed my total lack of cardiovascular health. The combination of sweat and spilled beer made the air foul smelling, but damn was it fun. Bad Assets play a lot of shows in the midwest oi circuit, and you shouldn’t miss them if they show up in your town.

Next was Bare Knuckle Hooligans, another unheralded street punk and oi band from the unlikely location of South Bend, Indiana. The trio also happens to be another favorite of mine. They kept the fun going with a handful of songs from their great 2017 LP, Never Walk Alone. (Check out “Revolution” or “My Home”.) They had to battle through some technical difficulties, but turned in a thoroughly entertaining set. The highlight was probably when they covered “I Hate Hipsters”. That song was originally by local favorites Auslander, who is the band of the guy who booked the show but was unable to attend. It seemed like everyone knew the song and was singing along. Bare Knuckle Hooligans are another band that you should definitely check out.

As much as I enjoyed the openers, I was really there to see STATE. The band started kicking around the Ann Arbor and Detroit areas more than 35 years ago. They broke up in ‘87, but reformed in 2003. They had played locally at least a couple of times in recent years, but I had missed their previous trips to Grand Rapids. They’re best known for their now classic1983 EP No Illusions, but they’ve amassed a pretty impressive body of work over the years. Although they might not be as well known outside of Michigan, I would put them in the same category as bands like Negative Approach, The Fix, Violent Apathy and Necros.

STATE is led by singer Preston Woodward, who has a long, deep history in the Detroit punk scene. He has connections to MC5, Cult Heroes and a bunch of others. He’s an imposing figure in his black T-shirt, balack jeans with a studded belt and chain wallet, black leather motorcycle jacket, and black engineer toed boots. He has an angry, hostile delivery similar to Negative Approach’s John Brannon. As a matter of fact, if NA is a 10 on the intensity scale, STATE is a solid 9. Woodward went right into the crowd to mix it up with the people down front. I’m not sure if there are any other original members, but either way, the band is made up of older guys who can flat out rage. (Again like Negative Approach.)

A couple songs in, the guest of honor handed me a small, pink gift bag that was tied tightly at the top. He asked me if I would be responsible for it. Then he took his shirt off and jumped into the small pit. I asked him what it was, but I already knew the answer. I could feel the shape of the grip and the barrel, and the square box of ammo in the bottom of the bag. So yes, I spent the next half hour or so holding on to someone’s birthday pistol. I don’t know if I should be complimented or insulted by the fact that I was the most responsible looking one in the room. The weirdest thing might be that it didn’t seem that weird. It was probably the most Westside thing about the whole night. It almost seemed appropriate given STATE’s violent music and violent hometown. On this night, all the violence was friendly. After the show, I made sure that he got his very thoughtful gift back.

STATE played a bunch of their own classics like “Police State”, “Nixed Life”, “Drug War” and “Subvert”. They threw in a couple of appropriate covers too. “I Got A Right” by Iggy and the Stooges and “State Violence State Control” by Discharge blended perfectly with their own underrated American hardcore. Every city and state has some unsung punk and hardore bands from the ‘80s, or maybe even the ‘70s. We’re fortunate that bands like STATE are still around kicking ass at such a high level. Know your roots, kids! And be sure to go see the bands that built the scene that you now take for granted. Otherwise you’ll miss out on great, great nights like this one.

Confessions of a merch whore: I picked up a beautiful blue and white vinyl copy of On Trial by Bad Assets. I already had the CD, but I also have a problem. I bought the Havoc Records black repress of STATE’s No Illusions 7” too. Once again, I already had it on CD. Last but not least, I got a STATE patch for my Michigan only vest. (For the record, I bought a bunch of Bare Knuckle Hooligans stuff last time I saw them.) There was no cover, and the bands were paid from the bar receipts. I had a busy day planned for Sunday (Father’s Day) and couldn’t imbibe as much as I’d have liked, so I wanted to buy some records to support the bands from out of town.