Review by Rose Eden
“Every day is a Spiritual Cramp. Life is a Spiritual Cramp.” - Mike Bingham, vocals, in an interview with Thrasher Magazine.
Located in a part of town called Dogpatch, road house style venue Thee Parkside was packed this past Friday night in San Francisco for the sold out and long awaited live return of Bay Area based band Spiritual Cramp. Bringing along a stacked and somewhat motley crue lineup of supporting acts consisting of “supergroups'' World Be Free and melodic punk outfit Ways Away, the addition of psych garage rockers Advertisement in the opening slot helped to manifest a crowd of supporters that was just as diverse as the billing. Not always one to catch every single band when I go to shows, if there was any gig to watch four back to back sets straight through at, this was the gig.
With funky, thumping bass lines reminiscent of The Talking Heads plus a similar spook-tacular vocal sound from Bingham, some heavily distorted, jangly, yet aggressive dual guitars for all you Clash fans out there, and a post punk/hardcore, pull everything off the dinner table by the tablecloth, totally chaotic infectious in person energy that absolutely transmutes through their music - but not as much as at their infamously dramatic, engulfing, and entertaining live shows… with much emphasis on the entertaining part. It honestly has taken me awhile to process the entire experience because I can now see why their gigs have afforded this 6 piece band a cult-like following of fans, both up and down the left coast and beyond.
Seattle based Advertisement took to the stage first with a conspicuous lineup of 7 members including 3 guitars and a keyboard player all piled onto the 2.5’ stage with no lack of gusto despite the cramped quarters. The garage and psych-pop tinged throwback set made the most of the 20 or so minutes they were given, churning out throwback rock n’ roll that reminded me of illustrious San Francisco bands of the past like The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Apache. Looking back at the gig as a whole after the fact, I realized just how well curated this line up was because despite each act being completely different from the next there were still obvious and visible threads tying them all together everywhere from the assorted band member’s previous groups to obvious complementary musical influences. I feel as if I must mention how entertaining this group is to watch live, if only for one of their guitar players giving a fervent performance squashed into the far corner with this sort of sweaty, head bobbing, Brian Wilson mixed with Lindsey Buckingham type of energy. Advertisement is great for fans of Super Crush or So What?, and I’d love to catch them again on their next run down here as I only anticipate them getting better as time goes on.
I was nothing less than thrilled when I heard that Ways Away would be on this bill. A “supergroup”: former and current members of marquee acts like Samiam, BoySetsFire, Racquet Club, and Stick To Your Guns, the 4 piece band is churning out some of Los Angeles’ best and most underrated melodic punk out there today. Alongside The Drowns’ Under Tension and Get Dead’s Dancing With The Curse, their self titled album was, in my opinion, one of 2020’s top 3 punk albums without any doubt or question. With rib-sticking lyrics like: “If you want me to change, you’re wasting your time//So just walk away, let me die here on the vine” and “Don’t you worry, I’ll tell your story//You’re a big man with bigger plans//Forgetting everyone who gave you a hand” (perhaps a nod to original member Jared Carmen’s sudden departure) Ways Away grabs you immediately with catchy guitar licks and vocalist Jesse Barnett, who is nothing less than captivating to watch onstage supported by guitar Sergie Loobkoff's creative solos and bass player Ian Smith - who, was joyful to watch, obviously in his own world with his high slung big ass jazz bass. Touring without their usual drummer Jared Shavelson of BoySetsFire, the setlist of 10 or so songs held their own as one song seamlessly rolled into the next despite a technical issue here and there. I always love to catch a band on their very first night of tour - there’s a certain energy to both the inaugural and final nights of show runs swirling around that gives you glimpses into what’s about to come, or contrary, all that is being reconciled. My only real complaint about this set was the lack of any sort of backing vocals whatsoever, as Barnett’s harmonized singing is one of the self-titled albums' best features and an important crux of defining that textbook melodic punk sound. Despite Loobkoff and Smith onstage, there was nary a second mic to be found during this set, leaving out something extremely critical for the layers of texture introduced throughout the sequential tracks on said album. I wrote it off as a technical issue, but I was also left wanting a bit more from the band, truth be told. Artists also cannot always be expected to reach every high note for example when they’re touring nor sing each song exactly the same every night, so having some vocal support also really helps round out the delivery for more of a full impact during a live show, otherwise you get this almost acoustic set kind of vibe. All in all I’m so glad I caught Ways Away, (even though I wanted to pick up an extra mic and put it on the stage myself as a not so subtle hint, but I digress) and am highly anticipating their new album and forthcoming material.
Speaking of supergroups, World Be Free is the penultimate example of an old school hardcore supergroup, with current and former members of Judge, Strife, Terror, Gorilla Biscuits, CIV more. I must admit it was a bit of an adjustment going from garage to melodic punk to floor punching melodic leaning hardcore but I digress because this band is just so dang entertaining to watch. Immediately engaging the audience, World Be Free filled both Thee Parkside with noise and the room with lot of their friends from other hardcore bands: spotted at the show were Paul Rivas from The Old Firm Casuals, Cris Powerhouse of OBHC legends Powerhouse, among several other Adidas adorned Old Schooligans. Ripping through a dozen or so high energy songs filled with lots of sliding, very technical guitar riffs, vocalist Scott Vogel of legendary hardcore band Terror spent most of the time on the floor in the audience stirring up the crowd in his gray cut off sweat shorts, serving one part classic hardcore band frontman/hypeman combo and another part stand up comedian, cracking jokes that reminded me of Paul from Sheer Terror ad libbing in between songs. Honorable mention goes to bass player Alex Baretto who has incredible energy onstage, skaning, pogoing, and flipping his wild mane of curly, Young Frankenstein-esque hair around - I could easily imagine him playing in bands like Murphy’s Law for his stage presence alone. So glad I got to see this band, and thinking back now, watching them at a show with an all hardcore band line up would be absolutely bananas and I certainly hope that’s the next capacity I catch them in when they come through town again.
“I just knew he looked familiar.” I told my friend at the gig while Spiritual Cramp was setting up onstage. Turns out their guitar player Jacob is actually my neighbor in San Francisco and on so many mornings and afternoons have I walked my miniature dachshunds by him hanging out in front of his apartment . I never realized it was the lead guitar player for the band, who took to the stage on Friday night to kick off their 2022 US tour which started in San Francisco and eventually ends in Atlanta at the end of April. Their 2 month run will celebrate arguably one of the best live bands in the state of California heralding an almost cult like following of punks, queers, old hardcore heads, and nearly everyone in between.
With high flying synchronized scissor kicks, a chest beating percussionist, and arguably one of the best bass players in any punk related band out there right now all lead by wind breaker wearing vocalist Mike Barnett, whose onstage posturing reminds me very much of all the many Oasis and Charlatans UK gigs I’ve caught throughout the years. (If you know “the stance”, you know) Brit pop aside, this group is no Disco 2000. Spiritual Cramp is a force to be reckoned with live, casting some sort of collective spell over their audiences and possessing them with the infectious energy of their grooving bass lines combined with intermittently pounding guitars which, as mentioned above, has created cult like following for them, selling out most - if not all of their shows. Barnett’s voice reminds me so much of David Byrne it is actually a bit spooky but in a good way - the penultimate front man, he leads both the band and crowd with that intangible, mesmerizing zeal that only a band leader with a bourne calling can manifest onstage. He reminds me a lot of a young Spencer Moody of Murder City Devils fame whom I first saw live in 2000, and I truthfully must say it’s taken me 22 years to witness anyone come even close to following in the footsteps of his particular magnetic aura onstage during a gig. Watching this band is quite remarkable from start to finish and, like the conduits they are, I’m unsure if I can recall any band I’ve seen as of late who can emulate even 1/3rd of the raw energetic enertia that they can conjure - and I’ve seen some big pretty bands recently. (Just saying) Spiritual Cramp is a hands down must see live in concert, they do not disappoint and are worth all the hype.
The Spiritual Cramp, World Be Free, Ways Away, and Advertisement show last week was the perfect example of why you should check out a gig with a lineup that seems a bit disorganized, because if you dig a little deeper the bands are usually way more connected than you may initially realize. Advertisement is a great example of why you should always try to show up early enough to catch the opening band, and Spiritual Cramp blew us all away with their invigorating combo of innovative, throwback tinged, high energy set list, plus most importantly, their obvious love and zeal for the stage, the road, and all who came to support them.
Review by Rose Eden