Max Levine Ensemble / Stza show review

Ace songwriter, Max Levine Ensemble singer and political agitator David Combs made a point onstage recently that echoes one conservatives have made for decades.
“If something doesn’t work,” Combs said, “You shouldn’t keep throwing trillions of dollars at it.”
Combs was not condemning government spending on social welfare programs. He was talking about a massive G20 infusion of capital (a “bailout,” in the parlance of our times) into the IMF.
In these days of panic, resistance to the torrential pouring of good taxpayer money after bad is futile, as quixotic as tilting at the laws of gravity, or free trade, or city hall.
And yet Combs conspired with George Washington University students to put together an IMF protest-themed punk rock show that by any reasonable standard must be called a success. A young crowd of well over 150 sold out the GWU hall, countless zines (sample title: “Breaking the Bank”) and fliers for protest events were distributed, heaps of money was collected for various causes, and the music was mostly good.
Max Levine Ensemble songs are an unusual blend of pop and punk. The Buzzcocks-esque band draws from a broad palette of influences, including ’60s pop and ska. TMLE is a durable, solid draw – packing happy dancers and group singalongs into D.I.Y. space after space after space after space, etc. – and is an unusually hardy band by the standards of D.C. punk.
Formed when they guys were in high school in 2000, the Ensemble has long been a trio comprised of Combs, powerful drummer Nick Popovici and bassist and singer Ben Epstein.
Friday, the band focused on songs from last year’s record, “OK Smartypants,” but also offered some new material, including a heavy, grungy cut apparently about the effects of the recession on “the global south,” during which one is abruptly made aware of the band’s anger.
In true D.C. style, Combs discouraged the multitudinous stagedivers, but he left the messy masses of happy, sweaty moshers unreprimanded.
“Come out to the events tomorrow,” Combs implored. “If you like Propagandhi, this is your weekend.”
Subsequently, GWU’s boys in blue showed up and made the crowd obediently file out of the hall and then passively re-enter in order to get a count of the audience.
It seemed a perfect time for Scott “Kill Cops” Sturgeon to shine, and yet Sturgeon, better known as Stza Crack, onstage through it all, was silent.
It was a missed opportunity, part of a failure of a night for Crack, the singer of one of the most popular contemporary punk bands in the country, Leftover Crack.
Stza played his band’s songs on a beat acoustic-electric that went all weak and weird after Stza unplugged himself – causing a long delay – while he tried to put on his harmonica during one of his first numbers.
“I really did break the thing that was plugged into the thing … I guess it was better before I broke the thing, huh?” the lyricist commented.
Stza played his bands’ well-known songs, but as much as his audience tried to encourage him by clapping and singing along, his set was just above a train-wreck, punk folk gone far too punk.
“The harmonica’s not in tune with the guitar,” Stza said. “I’m glad I could help in some small, tepid way.”
Fortunately, the other acts on the bill brought their A games. Local young hardcore act Control, Indiana fretboard wizards Good Luck and the clean-cut-lookin’ Long Island punks Bomb the Music Industry joined Max Levine in offering tight, energetic performances.

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