Archive for 'Shows'

The first warm evening of Spring is traditionally a fantastic day to attend a show, and this was no exception. Taking place on the outskirts of the Chinatown district in Philadelphia (in a venue that bears some sort of fiduciary connection to the infamous Diplo), the odds were in favor of Escape-Ism, Kilynn Lunsford and Annie Achron. I met a friend outside the venue, sporting black sunglasses, a beanie and a winter beard so bushy that it required two glances before I could confirm his identity, and we ventured in, eager to shed our winter layers.

South Philadelphia’s Annie Achron opened the show, standing up straight behind her table of cord-laden synths and related accoutrement. No worries if you haven’t heard of her – I don’t think she’s played more than ten shows in her life, and seeing as I missed all of them up to this point, I was pleased to have arrived on time. While her 2021 cassette release Silver​-​Handed In Subterranea reveled in the grimier, post-punk side of homespun electronic dance music, her live set landed closer to upbeat tech-house in a club setting. With imperceptible breaks between tracks, her songs buzzed with double-time loops and high-pitched effects, as if she was testing the highest keys on her sampler keyboard at least once per track. A nice touch! While Achron herself was stoic, even when adding her reverberant vocals to the mix, her music was buzzing with energy, like the dog that hops around excited to greet his owner when they come home from work. It’s my understanding that a highly reputable underground label has signed on to release her next album, and I can’t wait to hear it.

Up next was Kilynn Lunsford and her band, as she announced them in their matching mechanic suits. I’ve seen her perform a number of times now, not to mention her shows with the no-longer-active Taiwan Housing Project, and was eager to experience her junk-store voodoo no-wave amongst this crowd of friends and strangers. Lunsford sported a new shaved-head ponytail style, looking like a glamorous new member of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1991 lineup, and her band were particularly inspired this evening, drummer Thomas Storck throwing his hunched, lanky body into every skeletal beat alongside that rack of misbehaving synths, rubber-band bass and Lunsford’s echo-loop vocals. She played all the hits off her 2022 debut, Custodians Of Human Succession, as well as some I didn’t immediately recognize, giving hope for another new recording in the works. “Sewerland” and “Reality Testing” hit particularly hard with a live band. There’s a reverence for classic no-wave inherent to the funky bass / death-disco drums / vocals n’ noise configuration, but Lunsford is an expert student of the genre, knowing full well the most important thing is to put your own personal stamp on things, which in her case also includes wearing a large phallic pendant as a necklace and smushing her cool hair all around. We are lucky to have her with us.

Escape-Ism was the headlining act, a group I had yet to hear in any form but was particularly excited to see. Having been a fan of Ian Svenonius since discovering The Nation Of Ulysses as a teenager and hearing the stories of their wilder-than-wild live shows (they bring a rack of black suits to the show and throw it into the crowd like maniacs???), he’s been a low-level legendary force, the type of guy who accidentally reveals himself to be extra smart by behaving extra stupid. It can be hard for any performer to live up to the hype we build up in our heads, but I am relieved to share that my expectations of this DIY punk luminary were surpassed.

Escape-Ism is as stripped-down as a Svenonius group can get, this one featuring him on vocals and guitar, backed up by Sandi Denton on bass and keys. Sporting matching fire-engine-red suits, Denton played it straight while Svenonius remained locked in half-character at all times, introducing songs humorously and off-the-cuff, always lightly pushing for audience interaction. (Lots of “can I get a”s and “are you with me?”s inserted into every song where other singers would normally take a breath.)

I had not previously known Svenonius as a guitarist, and after witnessing Escape-Ism I can’t say that I know him as one now. His was some of the most technically-unskilled guitar playing I’ve seen play out in front of a live audience, which of course means it ranks near some of the best. In a delightful and confounding twist, he insisted on holding a second microphone in addition to the normal one on the stand, struggling to find chords with the added difficulty of holding a skinny retro mic with those same fingers. While the songs were staunchly primitive rock n’ roll, all public-domain riffs delivered without shame or pretense, Svenonius’s sharp lyrical mind was on proud display, skewering the capitalist rich in a variety of entertaining and funny ways. “Fire In Malibu” is still lodged in my head from hearing it only that once, an ode to the property-destroying blazes that continually pop up in the richest counties of Southern California. As Denton’s two-note grooves and Svenonius’s one-rhythm drum-machine hold down the fort, he jumps up, scatters across the stage and gesticulates uncontrollably, his guitar switching between silent and brash as he struggles to hold that extra mic, almost reminiscent of Neil Hamburger fumbling with four gin-and-tonics in his grip.

Considering the low overall wattage of Escape-Ism’s setup, it was surprising when the venue’s power dropped out for a few minutes. Such a sad turn of events has killed the energy of many a live performer, this writer sadly included, but Svenonius didn’t seem remotely phased, instead jumping into an unplugged sing-along, still strumming his electric guitar and wildly emoting with nary a care as to the lack of amplification. The power came back the exact second they finished that song, almost as if it was part of the show. But really, it was Svenonius affirming the fact that, had all of his limbs fallen off instead, he would’ve simply taken to spinning on his torso with the mic lodged in his throat, a vivacious performer incapable of ceding to anything besides the grim reaper’s eventual call. After the show, another friend remarked that much of the crowd smelled really good, a rare inversion of the typical underground gig. It was just one of those nights.

The streetwise aesthetic and raw yet danceable sound of Side By Side’s sole seven-inch EP has been raising my pulse for decades, and though a born New Yorker myself, I was all of seven years-old when they played their final show in 1988. When some of my pals wanted to go see them, I figured, why not treat myself to what has a good chance of being Side By Side’s only US show this century, with a bill stacked with contemporary (read: non-reunion) hardcore acts? We consolidated cars at the Woodbridge, NJ Walmart parking lot and charged the city.

I’m sure there are a number of readers who have never been to New York, and not only fantasize about the famed metropolis itself but its storied hardcore scene as well. While a gig of this capacity certainly doesn’t constitute the norm, if this was your sole New York hardcore experience, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s… kind of like anywhere else in the world. The Brooklyn Monarch is one of a number of old industrial warehouses turned grubby-chic Live Music Nightlife Entertainment Venue across the US, replete with a staff that couldn’t tell the difference between pictures of Flea and Harley Flanagan, nor would they care. That’s fine, I suppose, and if I was going to check out a modestly popular touring indie band like Real Estate or Wild Nothing, it’d be a perfect fit, but c’mon, this is Side By Side! Some classic NYHC folks were in attendance, thank goodness, though I can imagine they also felt the surroundings to be a little off, like a fancy terrarium mimics nature. Or maybe, in a landscape where every mom-and-pop has been systematically targeted and replaced by a chain, they’re already used to it.

Hudson, NY’s Dead Last opened and set the vibe, one of hesitance and modest engagement. The pit was opened and left empty by a couple valiant parallel moshers, and barring the singer’s Infest diss (which seemed a little cheap!) there wasn’t much to write home about, posi or negi. As it turns out, the Monarch is situated next to another venue (owned by the same folks as the Monarch, how about that) called The Meadows, where Sick Of It All were performing, almost at the exact same time as Dead Last were on stage. Sick Of It All would’ve been perfect with Side By Side for many reasons, but I understand that the money probably wouldn’t have worked that way, no matter how repugnant Born Against might declare it.

Brain Tourniquet were next, bearing the incongruous position of being the sole grind-core act on a hardcore bill. Desirable to some and awkward for others, the trio blasted out their set of power-violence faithfuls, clearly indebted to unimpeachable greats like Crossed Out and Terrorizer. I’m kicking myself for missing them at a smaller venue here in Philly over the summer, but they made it work here, complete with “…An Expression In Pain” to end their set, the twelve-minute doom/grind/riff opus that encompassed all of the second side of their 2023 Iron Lung album.

Firewalker took the stage next, and were the highlight of the night for me. This Boston five-piece delivered their flawless mix of NYHC grit ala Raw Deal and Krakdown with the first-wave cracked-teeth spite of Negative Approach and Last Rights. I was wondering how Sophie Hendry’s gruff, death-metal vocals would translate live, and they were as menacing as I could’ve hoped, stalking the stage in her practice-team pinnie / hoodie combo. Each song had all the proper parts – slow mosh, hard mosh, fast dive zone, shout-along chorus, internal vexation – and I was kicking myself for not reading along with a lyric sheet in preparation. I was feeling it all the way in the back, and the up-front crowd responded in kind. Raving to a friend about their set days later, we put on Firewalker’s 2017 full-length and it sounded better than ever – I love when you see a band for the first time and their recordings take on a different, brighter glow. Next time, I’m gonna lose it to “Don’t Cross Me”, that’s a promise!

Tired yet? Things were moving briskly, but then S.H.I.T. took a while to get started. My ex-edgeman friend shifted from vodka sodas to vodka Red Bulls, and found the frantic metallic sheen of S.H.I.T. to be his least favorite of the night, whereas I thought they did a noble job following Firewalker’s colossal presence. On stage, it became clear to me that their songs all utilized the exact same picking style, resulting in an imposing wall of heavy hardcore that might benefit from a little deviation. Don’t their wrists get tired with all those endless 16th notes, over and over? Probably a little too punk for the youth-crew crowd, especially one antsy for their beloved one-off reunion band, but I enjoyed their energy, and the fact that Brain Tourniquet called them “Shit” but they announced themselves as “Ess Aitch Eye Tee”, clearing up that matter. Two Iron Lung Records recording acts on the same Revelation Records reunion gig, what’s not to like about that?

Which brings us to Side By Side. Cheers erupted as the group plugged in, as well as jeers from at least one guy who took umbrage at Hate5Six’s presence – he hit the videographer with “do a pushup!” and “Rage Against The Machine sucks!” before being thrown out. Though the group doesn’t need to be rated on an age-based curve, it was impressive to see the energy and presence of vocalist Jules Massey in particular, who admittedly hadn’t been involved in hardcore in nigh thirty years. (He’s now a practicing maritime lawyer in Florida, one of the happier outcomes of the late ’80s NYHC diaspora.) Wearing a Terror t-shirt over a hoodie, he spoke at length between each song, thanking old friends, rejecting the modern practice of crowd-killing, segueing into lyrics, and explaining the purpose of the gig: a benefit for The Alex Brown Foundation, an art residency program put together in memory of his departed friend and bandmate. Touching and sincere, long-winded and (self-proclaimed) corny, Massey is a natural frontperson who seemed bemused to be playing hardcore again, with energy to rival S.H.I.T.’s sprightly Ryan Tong. The guitar tone was dead-on for the EP, and the crowd reacted with plentiful tumble-roll dives and fist-in-the-air sing-alongs, even if the nostalgic-terrarium feel continued to loom, somewhere between a 1988 CBGBs matinee and a Las Vegas Punk Museum simulacrum of one. When they struck their first chord, a sea of cell-phones popped up. I know we all talk about hating phones at shows, but in this context it felt particularly unpleasant. Clearly, no one was going to watch their little videos later; rather, this significant number of show-goers wanted to broadcast their attendance to their social-media followers, a clout check-in of sorts rather than active participation. Makes sense if you’re going to see U2 in the Orb or Taylor Swift on an aircraft carrier, but hardcore is meant to be experienced first-hand with one’s full attention, at least in this writer’s opinion. My friends were thrilled by Side By Side’s set, too up-close to even pull out their phones, and I watched them race to the merch line for fresh Side By Side longsleeves as the venue security screamed at everyone to leave. None of us took a single pic.