Madball / Kharma - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Madball / Kharma

Live in Grand Rapids (2019)

live show

For years, by no fault of their own, Madball was the butt of a running joke around A certain larger than life character, who many of you probably remember, borrowed their moniker for his (her?) screen name and used it to mock all things NYHC. That person is long gone now, or has taken on a different persona, but the scars remain. It’s a shame. Madball is a legitimately good band with roots that go all the way back to New York Hardcore’s early days.

Freddy Madball (Cricien) is the younger half-brother of Agnostic Front singer Roger Miret. The first Madball lineup consisted of a 12 year old Freddy singing, his brother on bass, and AF members Vinnie Stigma and Will Shepler on guitar and drums. While the lineup has changed significantly since then, the intensity of the band’s live show has not. More than a quarter century in, Madball is still going strong.

I first saw Madball in 1996, opening for the Graves era Misfits at the now legendary but long gone Reptile House in downtown Grand Rapids. It’s actually a pretty funny story. I’m sure I’ve told it before, but I’m going to tell it again anyway. (Then the words will still be floating around cyberspace long after I’ve lost my mind.) The way I understand it, Madball was originally booked to play a headlining show. When the owners got a chance to nab the newly reconstituted Misfits at the last minute, they just combined the two shows.

The Reptile House was a pretty small place. I can’t imagine the legal capacity was much more than a couple hundred. They opened up a side room to help with the overflowing crowd. That’s where you could find the extremely beefy and larger than life Jerry Only and Doyle lifting weights. They were friendly enough, but make no mistake about it, they were hulks. Freddy, all 150 pounds of him, was not impressed by the fact that the Misfits gear took up 90% of the fairly small stage. He called the Misfits out from his tiny sliver of the stage. He talked shit to guys who could have ripped his limbs off. For that, he will always have my respect.

After seeing Madball way back in ‘96, I had to wait almost two decades to catch them again. In more recent years, I’ve seen them open for Suicidal Tendencies and then Hatebreed in the main room at the Intersection in GR. I finally got to see them headline on Tuesday, December 10th at the smaller Stache at the same venue. They were doing a few shows alone before hooking up with The Old Firm Casuals for a few shows.

The GR hardcore scene seems to be flourishing at the moment, and there were two local openers. I missed the first one, Bitter Truth, because I was attending a 7th grade band concert. Due in no small part to my younger daughter on the clarinet, they knocked out a nice four song set of holiday songs in a tight 13 minutes.

I showed up in time to catch about 15 minutes of Life Loss. I enjoyed their energy and their set in general. There was a pretty decent crowd, at least by hardcore standards, of about 200. There was a big empty space near the stage, as 95% of the crowd was trying to avoid the handful of dancers. I can’t get used to the way the kids dance at HC shows these days. It’s like having a seizure. Or fighting an invisible adversary. When I walked in, a friend yelled “old guys in back!” He was right. That’s where we stood. (The really sad thing is, that “old guy” is at least 10 years younger than me!)

Kharma from Chicago played second to last. I’m going to say that their set was probably less than half an hour. I’m not complaining. They had a good intensity, and a surprising amount of people seemed to know their songs. Kharma might be from the Windy City, but their style was definitely heavily influenced by NYHC. It was metallic with plenty of chugging breakdowns for the spastic dancers.

There was no punk time on this night, and like the 7th grade band concert, things moved right along. Madball was supposed to go on at ten, but started by 9:45. They of course played a bunch of crowd favorites like “Hardcore Lives”, “Set It Off”, “Demonstrating My Style” and “Hardcore Still Lives”. They even payed tribute to Agnostic Front, The Godfathers of Hardcore, with the relatively modern AF song “My Life My Way”. Freddy, now in his mid 40’s and sporting long hair, could pass for a guy in his 20s. (At least from the back of the crowd.) He never stops moving.

One of the best parts of going to shows at my advanced age is running into old friends that I rarely see anymore. In this case, it was the guitar player from the local band that opened that Misfits/Madball show in ‘96. (Not the spry young 30-something who referred to himself as old when I first got there.) Life really is a series of circles. I enjoyed shooting the shit with him almost as much as the show itself.

This show is a good example of why I always try to buy tickets in advance. It ended up being a cold, snowy night, and I was flying solo. If I hadn’t already paid for the ticket, it would have been really easy to stay home in my warm house. Ultimately, it was a good show and I had a good time. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

Confessions of a merch whore: I didn’t buy a damn thing. So why mention it at all, you ask? Because I was surprised by what wasn’t available. Only the local bands had music, and that was on CD. There was not a record to be found. I thought everybody knew that hardcore sounds best on seven inch. There weren’t even any patches. All the headliners had was sweatshirts and T-shirts, which I don’t need. I can’t even give my money away. Oh well, more PBR I guess.