Coke Bust, Intent Nov. 3 at Charm City Arts Space

Normal people can’t handle a band like Coke Bust: The music’s too extreme for the vast majority. You have to be a freak to enjoy something like that. A fan of the band, I went to see Coke Bust play Baltimore’s Charm City Arts Space on November 3, and based on what I saw, the future looks good for freaks.

It’s funny: I always vaguely expect punk rock to peter out sooner or later, so I’m always vaguely pleased when I spy strong evidence that the mutated gene has passed into another generation. I’ve sincerely enjoyed this aesthetic for almost 20 years now and intuitively it just seems like kids these days should have some other radical style of music (like house) to get psyched about, and doubtless they do. Still, the punk rock and its direct descendents attract a new collection of alienated young people day after day, year after year. I was about 15 years late to the party, but as far as I can tell it’s not going anywhere. I’m excited for the 40-year-anniversary of “Never Mind the Bollocks.”

Anyway, I’d returned to the city for a few days.

I’d asked some people how the scene was doing and a few said they were impressed by the number of teenagers coming to shows. I did not doubt the veracity of these statements, but I certainly did not anticipate the youthfulness of the crowd in that arts space on that particular evening.

Far from being a flickering flame attended by a dwindling band of graying devotees, the underground D.I.Y. maximum rock ‘n’ roll scene remains the province of the youth.

At one point during the show, between bands, I watched the crowd file past me en route to the Baltimore night air. It seemed that almost everyone who passed me for 10 or 20 seconds or so, dozens of people in a row, was a teenager. I’m not sure if this has been the norm at Baltimore shows for a while or this was a kind of unique situation (I’ve only been to a handful of shows in Baltimore ever, and only to one other D.I.Y. show).

So, in addition to the fact that I haven’t lived in the area for a year and I don’t know much about Baltimore, I’ll readily concede that I’m no expert on the bands that played this concert, nor am I even an expert on the genre of music that they represent. As far as I know, though, there still isn’t anyone else trying to chronicle the Coke Bust community via the written word in a Search Engine Optimized format, so, you know, at least I’m fucking trying, to coin a phrase.

Everyone knows that younger fans get the most buck, and this show was no exception. At the arts space the energy was high, the vibe was friendly and the music was radical. Band after band I was impressed by the number of kids singing along. The arts space is a nice mid-size hall with very good sightlines. They don’t sell booze there. Apparently it actually is an arts space. The neighborhood around the venue is nondescript and non-threatening. The roughly 75 foot by 25 foot room (I’m guessing) was packed that night; I believe there were about 200 people there. At one point midway through I was told that 140 people had paid.

Anton Rough – a local hard-rock impresario and the mind behind a series of parodies of hardcore – organized and promoted the gig. Anton’s shows are no joke. Seven bands played that night, and the organization was smooth, like clockwork, which any show-promoting tycoon will tell you is an accomplishment.

The arts and music community is what I miss the most about D.C. during my self-imposed exile, and I looked forward to seeing every band that night, particularly Intent, True Head (which I missed) and Coke Bust.

Intent is Zack Wuerthner’s band. Zack has “room to grow” as a vocalist, but he’s off to a good start and has a lethal band backing him up. The other guys in Intent live in Boston and play in bands of some renown, and they’ve opted to start a band with a rookie who lives in the heart of Washington, D.C.

A reliably good show promoter, a unique character and a behind-the-scenes scenester, Zack is clearly held in high regard by his peers, and it’s cool to see him fronting a band for the first time. I know Zack fairly well (we were roommates for a few months, before that he booked a bunch of shows in the hovel I lived in), and I see him as a solid, candid, thoughtful, low-key nonconformist who has his life together to a degree that is quite unusual and impressive for a fully committed member of the freak community. Needless to say, he has the edge on me.

Onstage, Zack was a good frontman, conveying the emotions behind the songs naturally, moving his body to the beat (“skanking”) without seeming awkward, and otherwise and appearing fairly at ease in the limelight despite the constant heckling from his buddies between songs. Still, he got off-beat or out of breath once or twice, betraying either inexperience or the fact that Intent is not a band that rehearses exhaustively (Zack said he went to Boston a few times this year to work on music).

Intent is my cup of tea. It’s menacing hardcore with a groove – fairly musically varied and accessible, but still strongly rooted in classic hardcore punk. It’s good. The kids were singing along at Intent’s first show (tracks have been online for a few months now), and I could relate: If I’d heard this when I was a teenager, I too would have thought it was “the bomb” and probably “gotten buck.” I’m not too enthused about Zack’s vocal style or his lyrics yet (his rhymes express straightforward sentiments such as “Cross me again and I’ll seal your fate”), but, like those dudes from Boston, I am psyched about the idea of my man fronting a band. His heart is in the right place, which is the most important thing.

While Intent is just getting off the ground, Coke Bust has been atop the scene for a few years now, and during their set I realized something that might be hard for you to accept (particularly if you know them personally), but it’s the truth: The goofy and mischievous young studs (average age: 25) who comprise this hard-rock juggernaut have become one of the best bands in town, of any genre.

You cannot deny the utter dexterity with which they destroy this music and the things that they have accomplished while doing so.

After six years of consistently hyping, riling, creating and presiding over the extreme music community, Coke Bust has made its mark upon an era. Even if they don’t continue to grow in popularity (and they probably will), Coke Bust is already a notable band in the seemingly never-ending story of D.C. punk.

They’ve been a popular local band the whole time they’ve been around. They’ve always been good, they’ve inexorably gotten better, and the multitudes come out to damn near every gig. Two guys in the band are show promoting tycoons; they’ve set up shows for hundreds of bands coming through town, invariably showing our guests a good time. Coke Bust has repeatedly toured nationally and internationally. Their fan-base around the globe numbers in the tens of thousands (the Youtube clip for their song “Countdown to Death,” has a mere 38,419 views).

Coke Bust was the evening’s winner, but they had a decided home-field advantage. The Charm City crowd sang along during all the bands, but the kids sang along constantly to Coke Bust. The crowd was the most amped up, and Nike Tape was the most-liberated frontman, embracing his people by repeatedly leaping on top of them.  The band was locked in, carried away by the music they were playing.

It seems to me that at this point most Coke Bust songs oscillate between two distinct styles, switching between pummeling speed punk (what most people “noise”) and extremely catchy hyperactive riffs inspired equally by hardcore punk and good old rock ’n’ roll.

It’s an effective formula that keeps it fresh, vicious, and guaranteed to alienate anyone not already desensitized to this type of thing.

Highlights of any Coke Bust set are the powerhouse drumming of show-promoting tycoon Chris Moore and the wild guitar wielding of James Willett.

Chris also plays in Magrudergrind, Sick Fix, and D.O.C.; every time I see him play I am impressed by his ability to remember so many songs full of so many whiplash changes, as well as by the fact that he’s a sterling timekeeper, a killer beat-master, and a human jackhammer with a subtle, precise touch who adds depth and power to his bands’ songs. His girlfriend’s a lucky woman.

Coke Bust’s guitar player, James Willett, was memorably described as “a force of nature” based on his personal affect a few years ago. J-will back then was just about the freakiest. He was huge, he stank, he wore massive glasses, he dressed like an urchin, and he was utterly unabashed. He was straight-edge, but it seemed like he was on drugs. It was great.

He’s toned it down considerably since then, but still has a gleam in his eye. I’ve heard him make some excellent jokes at my expense. I don’t really know him, but I would guess that he adds a much-needed dose of insanity to his fairly straight-laced ensemble and that James’ playing reflects his seemingly wild personality.

I didn’t expect Coke Bust to get better when they lost Jeremy Evans on the six-string and replaced him with Willett last year – Evans is a cool player who has been on the scene a long time – but they did.

I can never hear what bassist Daniel Jubert is playing, but they asked him to join Coke Bust, so I’m sure he’s fine. As for Nick Tape, the lead-screamer, he writes really cool lyrics.

My sole criticism of Coke Bust is that live, Nick’s vocal attack is too one-dimensional. It’s uniform high-octane shouting. It’s monochrome. Consider adding some colors to yr palette, Van Gogh. This criticism does not apply to their recorded output.

Here are the words to “Another Fucking Problem,” a perennial crowd favorite:

“Work, death, bills, debt, time, life, stress. Fuck, when will it end? I am just a simple man. I do everything I can to keep the peace, make ends meet, make it work, make you see. Stability, health, future, fights. Done it all clean, obeyed all their rules. I try my best but I still seem to lose. I’m in over my head, and I can’t seem to solve them. Just another fucking problem.”

If these guys stick with it they will continue to live out the dreams of every man while creating true art and gaining renown within a righteous and hip marginalized community.

As for the other bands, my notes aren’t that great. Here they are, now, nearly verbatim.

Free Spirit: Pretty typical contempo HC distinguished by great bass. Youth mosh, singalongs, stage dive continued equal, five people texting at once. Guitarist preppiest looks like college student from 1950s. Flyered by Chris Moore. Robin Zeijlon sure knows a lot of songs.

Boston Strangler: Simple riffs, sounds like something that could cut you. The singer, a clean-cut-lookin’ dude, looks by far the most angry of the vocalists to take the stage this evening. Great drummer, also makes a really angry, unpleasant face. Straight-up hardcore. Robin still singing along.

Seen on the scene: Jeremy Evans, Kim Righter, Pat Vogel, Steve 86, Dave Byrd, Brandon Brown, Ambrose Nzams, Ryan Zellman, Robin Zeijlon

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