St. Stephen’s Church & the Pinch, April 12 & April 13, 2013
Covered in sweat, their eyes were glassy and red as they agonized in line, damaged. Minutes before, they were roiling, bathed in an eerie blue light. They looked like a subhuman species laboring, warring, struggling to survive. I was in the back of the room, taking in as much as I could with my enervated, cynical eyes. I couldn’t see much of the band.
This was the final moments of the Damaged City festival, and the last set, like the rest of the fest, was an unbridled success.
Most of the night I was unable to get into the performance space, a 150-person (or so) room in the basement of a bar in the Columbia Heights neighborhood in Washington, D.C. It was so packed that I couldn’t get downstairs.
This was the after-party; this was Sunday morning.
The fest started on Friday afternoon and on Saturday it sold out St. Stephen’s hall, a 500-person-capacity room.
On Sunday morning outside of the bar you would be hanging out with your friends and then you would say that you were going inside to try and watch the band and people would overtly laugh at you and say, “Good luck,” and you would see them again five or ten minutes later after you’d given up, again, on getting into the basement venue and ventured outside, again, to socialize with your peers, an activity which offered many enjoyable opportunities such as observing the concert’s promoter and organizer as he bantered with another friend who was spewing all over the sidewalk.
“Show that sidewalk who’s the boss!” Nick Tape encouraged.
“Yeah!” our friend replied, vomiting.
“You are not the boss of that sidewalk,” Nick corrected. “That sidewalk is bigger than you! That sidewalk is harder than you! You will die, but the sidewalk will still be here! …” And on it went, and our vomiting friend, of course, was unable to compose a clever retort. Nick certainly had the edge on him. A reasonable person could only conclude that our friend was not, in fact, the boss of that sidewalk.
Nick is a self-proclaimed “show promoting tycoon.”
There is doubtless a more apt term than “tycoon” for a young man who books and promotes packed concerts – day after day, month after month, year after year, on an ever-increasing scale – but the word “tycoon” is accurate enough, and it conveys some of Nick’s lighthearted joie de vivre. He is not really a tycoon, of course, but he is also not about to spend hours searching through thesauruses trying to find the perfect synonym. That’s my job, and this Atlas shrugs.
It is tempting to label Nick an impresario, but that word seems too grand for a 27-year-old captain of the punk scene. If it was any other style of music – rap, classical, indie – Nick could reasonably be termed an impresario.
Anyway, just hanging out on that sidewalk was a lot of fun. After a decade or so in the District I’d been gone for over a year (getting back to my roots, in the dirt), and the fest had the feel of a class reunion packed with all of your favorite people, as I’d suspected it would. Tons of pals from bygone days were there. I figured they would come out of the woodwork for Damaged City Fest, and they did. I saw people I hadn’t seen in years and some I doubt I’ll ever see again.
The room was still packed, but I finally got into the basement for the last few songs by the last band of the fest.
I looked around and I was among friends, people in the know, people I like and admire. My old pal Dave Stone caught my eye and punched me in the face.
The Aftermath finished a fantastic, revelatory set, and the damaged crowd filed past me, queuing up to head outside, the most beat parade I’d ever seen.
The crowd quickly thinned, and then I found myself behind the scenes, where I belong.
After a few minutes I caught the eye of ace concert promoter Chris Moore (who, with Nick, organized the fest).
No one who knows anything about it can argue with a straight face that Moore is not the best and most accomplished young concert organizer and promoter currently active in D.C.’s D.I.Y. punk / metal / extreme scene.
In fact, it is sometimes theorized that, due to the efforts of Moore and his comrades, this underground scene may not be all that underground for all that much longer.
Moore, alone in his crowd, did not look damaged. He held up a large cup of coffee, caught my eye, said, “coffee,” and drained it in a gulp. Then he said it was “time to go to work.”
Seconds later he was scrambling around the stage, coiling up wires and unplugging amps, packing up. As he worked, I asked him if he was going to do the fest again in 2014. “If we break even,” he said, “and if I get more help.”
As I’ve perused my journalistic efforts, doggedly trying to compile a book of articles about bands in D.C., I’ve gradually realized that I inadvertently documented the lives and times of these two young scions of the scene: Christopher Moore and Nicholas “Candela” Tape. Both are in their late 20s now.
Returning to D.C. to write about a two-day festival they organized seemed like a perfectly fitting way to round out a project that has taken far more effort and time than I expected and continues to siphon my life away as I look on with growing concern.
I’ve interviewed Chris and Nick over the years; reviewed many shows they’ve booked; went on the road with Chris’ band Sick Fix briefly; and have generally watched their “careers” as “successful rock musicians” “really take off.”
I first met Chris back in 2006 when I interviewed him for a newspaper story about his band. He was 19 and was promoting a show at the Warehouse Next Door with Magrudergrind, his extraordinarily heavy and intense band from the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Magrudergrind brands themselves anti-music and doubtless upwards of 99 percent of humanity would agree with that assessment.
Magrudergrind was playing in support of Unholy Grave (from Japan) and Sanity’s Dawn (from Germany).
That show marked the first time that a Magrudergrind gig sold out a venue, and Chris has been doing it ever since, filling ever-larger rooms with audiences eager to see acts generally (but not always) wholly obscure in the broader national rock ’n’ roll context – bands that would be, in general (but not always), profoundly abrasive and off-putting to the reasonable man on the street (which is, to an extent, the point) – but these touring and local acts are profoundly and often passionately enjoyed by both casual and obsessive fans of punk rock.
Whether he wants to admit it or not (he doesn’t) Chris is a “successful punk rock musician,” playing straight-up homicidal music for misfits and doing more than almost anyone to keep the D.C. scene vibrant and real and weird while also touring the world with his bands and getting paid by Toyota to make records for hipsters. I am not making this up.
Kurt Vonnegut memorably stated that “the secret to writing well is caring,” and that’s true, but if you think about it for a while you might realize that he put it too narrowly: The secret to doing anything well is caring.
At one point, while I was occasionally booking shows in D.C. in my customary desultory fashion, I stumbled upon this profound insight and glaringly obvious fact while I pondered Chris’ shows – which reliably draw punks, hipsters, longhairs, nerds, weirdos, poseurs, and assorted iconoclasts like wolves to the feed – and compared Chris’ shows to my own hit-or-miss efforts.
I eventually realized that Chris flat-out cared far more about his shows than I did – particularly regarding the bands he booked – and that, of course, made all the difference.
It was a totally different thing: He was booking shows to support bands that he liked that were on tour; I was booking shows as a last-ditch way to get my “notorious” (by which I mean not particularly popular) band on bills. Guess which way works better?
Don’t get me wrong: I would try early and often to book bands that I loved, but if A Warm Gun, Turboslut, Brain Damaged, Edie Sedgwick, Magrudergrind, The Guilt, Ilsa, Ryan Harvey, the Max Levine Ensemble, the Screws, or whomever were unavailable or banned from the venue I was booking, or declined to respond to my emails, or whatever, as the day of the show inexorably approached I would sooner or later simply say “fuck it” (always the most useful reaction), and book a band that I didn’t care about that had been hitting me up for shows via the internet and did not immediately offend my sensibilities. Sometimes (often) I would put a band or two that had asked me for shows via the ’net and a band or two that I genuinely liked on the same bill with my band and hope for the best. Sometimes it was really fun; sometimes it was extremely annoying; the whole experience was an extremely mixed bag.
In retrospect, I definitely should have exercised a lot more care and quality control, but in all candor a lot of the shows I did were cool and I met a few people who are among my best friends to this very day by booking unremarkable bands that contacted me via the internet, so I guess it all worked out fine, but enough about me: The point is that Chris is more far, far, far more aware of and enthusiastic about a wide variety of underground extreme artists than I am – than nearly anyone is – and he is excited to book these bands. He loves these bands and he wants to show them a great time in D.C., and he does.
Chris’ particular specialty is the “mixed bill,” which brings together bands and cliques from disparate regions of the incredibly fractured rock underworld (punk / metal / indie / grunge / grind / pop-punk / power-pop / et cetera). To me, a good mixed bill is a holy grail of rock ’n’ roll. A lot of people don’t really like them. I’m fortunate that Chris does.
Damaged City Fest, I quickly realized, was a classic Moore mix.
I had the impression that Damaged City was going to be a hardcore fest. It was not.
It was a punk-rock festival that featured everything from pop-punk to grunge soaked in bleach to 1980s-era D.C. hardcore hero John Stabb crooning obscure stoner-metal anthems from the ’70s with the youth of today (including Moore and Tape) chugging along behind him, bearing down on timeless hooks and creating something singular and outlandish and enormous. Watching Coke Bust play that Pentagram song with John Stabb fronting the group felt historic, and in that time and in that place – in that community – it was.
I can continue to write about how Chris and Nick are concert kingpins, potentates of punk, but you know what would demonstrate their status and skills far more than another torrent of text from yours truly? If they created a two-day, four-show punk rock extravaganza – and the festival sold out and the whole deal went off without a hitch and a crowd of habitual malcontents had a fantastic time. If Nick and Chris could pull that off they’d be the cream of the crop, the flowers in the dustbin. Well, they did. Pied pipers on the road less traveled, Nick and Chris subverted the dominant paradigm and made a lot of people really happy while doing so.
Organizing a D.I.Y. punk show is often a quixotic, Sisyphean task; booking a punk festival is an exercise in masochism; booking a two-day, four-show extravaganza requires an potent blend of confidence and optimism, perhaps derived from a decade or so in the trenches, making such things happen.
They attempted an imposing task – assembling hundreds of aggrieved nonconformists for a festival of anti-music – and they pulled it off almost without breaking a sweat except for when they were onstage.
The masters always make the game look easy. The fans can only applaud and try to encourage them on to further feats.
The fest was a freaky, dream-like scene.
The crowd was an appealing mix of people who looked like they just got out of the psych ward, throngs of presumably alienated teenagers, adults who go well out of their way to appear among the dregs of society, and, of course, nerds, longhairs, normal-looking people, and so on.
Most of the bands played in a church.
I watched groups of teenagers chatting in pews far away from the stage while wizened wizards of the scene wandered around buying zines from each other, a stone’s throw away from a large crucifix.
To this day, after attending dozens of shows like this, it still nearly boggles my mind that Saint Stephen’s was not – and is apparently almost never – vandalized. To me, it still doesn’t quite add up. These are teenage punk rockers we’re talking about here – among history’s most ardent vandals – hanging out, unsupervised, in a church. Mad props, as we’d say in the 1990s, to them, for not ruining it for everyone else.
We in the D.C. extreme arts / music / lifestyle community forget just how bizarre the whole concept of a punk festival in a church is to the average Jane.
To us, shows in churches are utterly routine, but if you try to explain that the realest punk rock in town goes down in a church to a normal person, in my experience, they will unsubtly convey that they think you are either lying, mistaken, insane, or some combination of the three. Why wouldn’t they? The whole deal is weird. I wouldn’t believe it either.
I live in the woods now, far away from any kind of a punk community and the festival was a vital and much-needed reminder that “punk” continues to provide an extremely relevant and practical artistic toolkit through which one may address and interpret the world.
I am not just talking about the music. The visual art and the writing that arise from the “punk movement” also often resonate with me in ways that few other things ever have.
At the church there was a large side-room full of people selling punk-rock bric-a-brac. I bet a lot of these people do not pay taxes on their sales.
The room was a hum of activity, and as I appraised the fanzines, the fans, the records, and the bands, the scene expanded my consciousness with alacrity: It brought home the fact that, to me, the punk subculture continues to germinate some of the most interesting, appealing art that is presently available. Somehow, after a decade in the pit and more than a year out of town, I had almost forgotten.
Sorry to belabor the obvious, but it’s really nice to be around other people who don’t care about the love lives of celebrities, or about network situation comedies, video games, big budget movies, and similar things in which I take little or no interest. I am interested in subjects such as environmentalism and politics and it’s really hard to find people in the outside of the beltway who have such interests, at least in my recent experience, although a lot of people will say they do and then demonstrate their style to be ill-informed and cavalier.
As has been previously noted many times, D.C.’s “punk-rock scene” is self-selected to a significant extent, because a lot of individuals (like me and Mark Andersen) move there for school because they are interested in public policy.
While listening to the NOFX song “Ronnie and Mags” recently, I realized abruptly that punk rock is music for political science students. What other genre would give rise to such a song?
I feel that our popular culture is evermore crass and malignant that the lamest, weakest, basest, dumbest denominators dominate broad swaths of our visibly nation and that punk is and ought to be something that stands apart from, and against, the emerging idiocracy. To me, that’s a huge part of the appeal. To paraphrase the great Maurice Alvarado: “Some people might say that’s elitist. Too bad.”
… Damaged City Fest kicked off around 7 p.m. on Friday, April 12, 2013, at St. Stephen’s Church in Washington, D.C., and it immediately surpassed my expectations.
I saw the first band, Satan’s Satyrs, at the Corpse Fortress back in 2011, and I thought they were bad. My friend who likes loud alt-rock left during their set, never to return to the Corpse Fortress of Positivity.
Nick Tape, an ardent supporter of the band, told me more than once that Satan’s Satyrs are cool, and that their Corpse Fortress show was just a fluke, but I didn’t believe him (in such situations one rarely does; you’re being told to disbelieve your own senses).
Well, it turns out that Nick was right and I was wrong when I said that Satan’s Satyrs are a bad band with a dumb name. Their name is unimpressive, but their music is in fact premium high-octane sludge.
I am an unabashed antique grunge-rocker, and I was totally enthralled by this band of longhairs in their early 20s with Black Flag shirts that consistently evokes Nirvana’s “Bleach” album, complete with what a Nirvana partisan, back in the 1980s, termed “freeze-dried vocals.”
At this point the room was by no means full, but a respectable number of people were there. The hall was about half or a quarter full already.
The next band to take the stage was Give.
I wrote about Give way back in 2009 when they played the Corpse Fortress of Positivity (of all places).
I wrote that the band “sounds like Henry Rollins fronting a post-millennial Dischord band, but more discordant than that stuff and better, with regular stylistic shifts. Give provides a nice amount of variation, except the vocals, which are always gruff and rely on the same tones. Other members of the audience said Give has a ’90s vibe.’”
While I had a totally different perception of Satan’s Satyrs the second time around, my critical appraisal of Give in 2013 is extremely similar to that of 2009.
The first review holds up: Give is a very good band, playing a loud, emphatic, herky-jerky style of punk rock with enthusiasm and sincerity. They are a creative and often inspiring live act.
To me, Give’s aesthetic and lyrics are generally more interesting and appealing than its music (the stop-start / herky-jerky sound is just not my ideal; my ideal is the Ramones), though both are part and parcel of the band’s genre-bursting commitment to a “no rules lifestyle.”
Generally considered one of the most interesting and artistic bands in D.C., Give is known for diverting its lyrical focus away from customary punk subjects such as the macabre, ill-informed sloganeering, negative feelings, and complaints.
Give instead offers shouted choruses such as “I am love!” and flower-heavy imagery.
These longhaired weirdos take the hippy thing pretty much as far as they can while still playing raging alternative punk. They are understandably embraced by the scene, but they are intentionally self-marginalized (they are the chosen rejects’ chosen rejects) by the strangeness of what they’re doing. It’s queer. It’s cool. I know one of them fairly well and I know that it’s real. It is true D.I.Y. at its best.
They send zines and correspondence through the mail to hundreds of people who write to them. The singer lives in a house with like 12 other dudes and pays like $200 a month for rent. He is in his early 30s.
There is nothing bigger for Give than this. They have made it and they have it made. They have accomplished what they set out to do – make records, tour, subvert the superstructure, make a lot of fans, play a lot of great shows, make true friends with other people who inadvertently came out of the womb set for life against the grain. What more could a band want? A cool band wants nothing more.
Give’s restless music is hard to pin down (where do you draw the line between alternative, punk, hardcore, post-hardcore, and alternative punk); and consequently due to the fact that they aren’t straight-up punk or hardcore, they have crossover appeal and are one of the few bands that is committed to the underground scene that has managed to attract admiring notice from the above-ground media.
In keeping with Give’s Herculean efforts to keep punk weird, our friend’s dad, who looks like the weightlifter that he is, stood onstage throughout their performance, wearing a Give “flower-head” tank-top. It was pretty bizarre to see a 40 / 50-something-year-old man chilling out onstage, in front of the band, nodding his head to the beat, keeping his arms crossed, looking like the toughest guy in the room.
As Give’s last notes rang out I was amazed and honored to hear the band’s singer, John Scharbach, dedicate the band’s set to the Coits, a little-known and nearly defunct band that also seeks to keep punk rock creative (I am the Coits’ primary lyricist).
Next up was Tenement, a band that gave me the opportunity to revert to my natural-born state of scorn. I’d heard many good things about this band over the years – Chris hypes them every time they come through town – but I’d always missed them.
They play a style of music that is appealing to me – pop-punk – but the mix seemed really off during their set, with the singer’s unappealing voice dominating the music, and the riffs washed over me like the bland cascades of chord changes that they are. This was probably the worst sound mix I’ve ever endured during a large show. I’d never been to a show before where I fixated on what seemed to be a really terrible mix for such a protracted period of time. Normally I’m not an “audiophile,” or a “snob,” and when I hear people talking about that type of thing I generally try to tune them out, but I guess they have a point sometimes. I thought Tenement was terrible, but maybe it really was just “the mix.” There was one riff that I liked. The singer’s voice was overbearing and grating, and not in a good way!
… In the words of Nick Tape, putting your own band on a show that you are booking is the easiest and least modest practice in the game.
Without doubt, many people book shows primarily for this reason, as well as to facilitate booking shows for their own tours via “show trading.”
If I had to guess, I would speculate that Chris and Nick book shows to bring bands they like to town, to facilitate show trading, and to get their bands on good bills (in roughly that order, depending on the show).
In other words: It was time for a set by Chris Moore’s band Sick Fix.
Sick Fix is due obeisance.
I am not going to say that Sick Fix is the best band in D.C., but I’m not going to say that they are not the best band in D.C., either.
Do the math: Michelle Northam is among the best vocalists (arguably the best), Chris is among the best drummers (probably the best), and Pat Vogel is among the coolest guitar players (arguably the coolest). I’m sure that prime bass-dog Rob Santucci holds down the low-end like the alpha-mutt he is, too (I’ve never particularly noticed his playing, but he looks really angry onstage, as do they all), and in particular I applaud his selection of classic Metallica t-shirts.
At their best (and they often are) Sick Fix is as hard, livid, creative, and scathing as anything I have ever heard, frantically careening between blistering speed punk, gargantuan hooks that make you want to run around smashing everything, tastefully deployed dabs of metal and grunge, dinosaur stomps, hardcore punk, and painfully abrasive anti-music, all gift-wrapped in layers of distortion. Sick Fix is what an insane person’s mind sounds like, and for someone who looks to music to validate their feelings, it is a dream come true.
They say that punk music is supposed to be simplistic, but Sick Fix breaks all the rules: Their music is extremely interesting and advanced. They use many notes.
I have seen them play many times (a dozen times or so, including a few shows out of town). In my experience, they’ve never failed to deliver, and they always get a good audience response, and their Damaged City set was no different. Michelle lets the rage out. Chris Moore once told me that Michelle is the angriest-sounding singer he’s ever heard, and while I can’t necessarily bestow that honor upon her, I understand where he’s coming from and why he would have that opinion (“Every time I hear her sing, I get so fucking pissed,” Chris stated).
They are a great live band, and the kids always go off for them (as they should), but where Sick Fix shines most of all is on its 2012 studio album “Vexed.”
It had been a long, long time since I was as excited about an album as I was about “Vexed.”
Maybe this whole punk rock thing is finally getting somewhere after all.
After the crowd got the sickest fix, it was time for Baltimore’s Mindset. Unfortunately, I lost my notes on this band. I remember that I liked them and had seen them before. They covered the obscure local punk rock band Minor Threat to start their set and did a good job with it – a bold move to be sure.
Their singer offers some empowering punk-D.I.Y.-type commentary from the stage, which I enjoyed, as I did the last time I witnessed his “banter” (sometimes I find such messages delivered from the stage to be staid or off-putting), but the mind behind Mindset pulls it off winningly; he seems really sincere).
Closing out the church show was Dropdead. Watching this band after Mindset reminded me of watching Bad Religion take the stage after Andrew W.K. in 2004. Bad Religion is one of my favorite bands – same with the friend I went to the show with – but we agreed that the middle-aged cross-busters seemed dull next to the insane energy of Andrew W.K.
So it was with Dropdead: Rather than feeling the vitality one associates with youth, I was feeling my age, and theirs.
This band, from Providence, Rhode Island, has been “active in the punk scene” since 1991, but based on the amount of energy they deployed onstage it seemed more like they’ve been active in the punk scene since 1951. The singer stood still the whole time.
High-pitched male vocals are among my least-enjoyed musical tactics. High-pitched male vocals are the backbone of this troupe’s aural onslaught.
People far more in the know than me (see: Moore, Chris) believe that this band is good, and I’d doubtless be tuckered too if I’d been active in the punk scene since 1991 (I am saving my energy), and listening to Dropdead as I type I can concede that it’s kinda wild, but at the time I was not interested in what Dropdead was peddling.
After Dropdead’s set the band’s singer sat on the stairs by the stage and gazed out at nothing, looking forlorn and perhaps unwell. I suddenly saw it as an apt summation of the whole deal.
“So these are the wages of punk rock,” I mused. “For even a successful, ‘legendary’ band, you spend your whole day waiting for a performance that lasts 40 minutes, tops, and then you’re alone, again, and depressed. Where do I sign up?”
That night and the next morning my ears rang.
I asked Pat Vogel on Saturday if his ears rang and he told me that his ears have been ringing for 20 years. I asked him if I could quote him on that and he said I could.
On Friday, after things wrapped up at Saint Stephen’s the “after-show” was held in the aforementioned basement of the aforementioned bar in Columbia Heights: The Pinch. It was a nice room for a punk show – long and narrow – and 150 misguided souls would probably fill it to capacity (I’m not great at estimating such things).
At the after-show I “moshed” to Ilsa.
Ilsa was always one of my favorite local bands and I like them on an interpersonal level as well. I would go so far as to call us friends (no offense, Ilsa).
God, they crush. They really do sound apocalyptic. They are the best, most street, most punk metal band around.
Just look at them: They are on some strange, unsettling shit.
Are you familiar with the rules and norms and mores of our society? Newsflash: Ilsa is not buying into any of them. Beyond their “hard partying” ways, they are about as cliché-free as a hard rock band can be. At least two of them are extremely accomplished visual artists. They are willing to live in abject poverty. They seem to put minimal (bordering on zero) effort into promoting their band. I can confirm, however, that they do practice regularly, and seriously, or at least they did when I was in their orbit.
They have risen to the top of the heap because they are talented and real, which is the way it should be.
I lived with two Ilsas for a year or so in a decrepit ruin of a punk venue.
OK, so I’ll say it: Corpse Fortress uber alles.
The Corpse Fortress was awesome. It was a dream-come-true. It was a nightmare. It offered dirt-cheap rent and an excellent venue in the basement. If only that house was cleaner it would have been great living, because those mosh-bros are really clever and fun to hang out with, and I still can’t quite believe that they accepted me as a mosh-peer. I often felt like I was simultaneously the squarest and the strangest person at the Corpse Fortress, perhaps because I was.
The Corpse Fortress is long gone, and it is missed.
I did not attend Damaged City Fest expecting to reminisce about the good old days of the C.F., but my confreres wanted to and I was game, because it was a really unique and interesting place. I was glad to hear that it is missed and that it is remembered fondly, and that I was apparently so closely associated with it.
That place really was anarchic. The ruling ethos was “Do what you want.”
Talk about a recipe for success!
It was punk rock taken as far as I’d ever want to. It was a great underground punk venue – certainly the best of its era. Nowhere else in the immediate D.C. area even came close.
There really were no rules, except for when they were created in an arbitrary, last-minute fashion, and those rules never lasted, and it was usually people who lived there who broke the rules first and foremost.
I booked a bad show or two there and a couple of fantastic ones and a few that were OK. Chris Moore and Zack Wuerthner and Nick Tape did wicked shows there week after week, year after year; fantastic shows that packed the parking lot outside, the house’s two above-ground stories, and the hundred-person (or so) show space full of the youth of today moshing like wild refugees from outer-space drunk on life and high on speed. It was otherworldly. It was surreal and also hyper-real. It was dangerous, full of exposed wires, standing water, junkies, feral cats, mulattos, mosquitoes, my libido, guns, drugs, minors who were literally wards of the state, social castaways, really bizarre people, and so on.
A brilliant man once said that the house looked as though a bunch of orphan children lived there.
I always feared that it would end with another overstuffed show and “punk rock Great White.”
I wasn’t the only person secretly relieved when we were evicted.
Still, the Corpse Fortress Golden Era (The Immortal Roster: Dylan, Alex, Loren, Jessie, Lauren, Garrett) was one of the happiest times of my life and, unless my fortunes change markedly, probably always will be.
One sure sign that a metal band is great is when it is the house band at far and away the hardest punk house in a hard punk town.
Ilsa was the house band at the Corpse Fortress for years, and they have gone on to bigger and presumably better things since then (we were evicted in 2011 and now they tour and put out records on real labels and play big venues, etc.).
Still, I suspect those will always be golden days for them, too. It’s strange how long ago it seems already.
Ilsa delivered a typically vituperative set at Damaged City.
As my colleague Simon Cohen has noted previously, Ilsa’s music sounds deranged and despondent – the soundtrack to a suicide – but they are sharp, amiable, on-point fellows in real life.
The band offers an assault of noise and feedback and hellish screeching mixed with a variety of heavy metal tropes; there was mass head-banging and a wild pit. For a while there I really did feel like I was in hell. Pat Vogel moshed.
Misled Youth also played the after-show. I’ve been hearing about this band for a few years now. It boasts a distinguished pedigree, including veterans of the excellent D.C. punk bands Coke Bust and the Feed (Daniel Frederick Jubert and Chris Henley, respectively).
With a name like Misled Youth and not one but two members of the Jubert family I wasn’t sure if this band was a joke or not, but I became a believer seconds into their set when the singer shouted, “Yo! We’re Misled Youth! From the suburbs! Not the city!” Then the band crashed into straight-up punk to a crazed audience response. “Ah, yes,” I thought to myself, “punk. Nice.”
Misled Youth is punk.
Back in college I was taught to judge art not on the degree to which the art accords with one’s personal taste, but rather based upon whether the artist accomplished what he or she set out to do.
Misled Youth are trying to be punk. I have reason to believe that they have accomplished this goal.
Permanent Ruin also played the after-show. They were a great, shrieking, thrashing band that I liked. I remember a lot of tattoos and hair.
The next day, day II of Damaged City Fest I, is best described as an epic day of punk rock; 16 bands, from all over the country and the genre continuum; one can’t fault Nick and Chris for a lack of ambition.
The first band I caught that day was my friend Zack Wuerthner’s band Intent.
Zack is the man and his band is getting it together. Zack, a neophyte on the mic, seemed a little shy and unsure onstage. This was one of Intent’s first shows.
Intent certainly suffers from no shortage of audience enthusiasm or great show offers. My earlier impression of Intent stands: musically, they are lethal, and Zack is still getting his footing as a front-human.
The next band was my favorite of the fest, perhaps because they were a total surprise, but I should have known that they would be good, for they hail from the Promised Land of punk and grunge: Olympia, Washington.
I always say that my favorite types of music are punk and folk and grunge and hardcore punk, but that’s actually not true: My favorite type of music is wild, female-fronted punk. My favorite NOFX song is “Dinosaurs Will Die,” but the one I get stuck in my head the most is “Lori Meyers.”
Kat Bjelland is my John Lennon. Ani DiFranco is my Bob Dylan. Elizabeth Warren is my JFK. Courtney Love is my Kurt Cobain. Kurt Cobain, of course, is my Jesus Christ (just kidding, God!). Doubtless my affinity for female singers from Kacey Musgraves to Something Prescribed is yet another marker of yet another pathology, but I prefer to think of it as yet another validation of one of my favorite theories: We like music because it validates our feelings, and I am a punk rock girl.
All of this is apropos of Adjustment to Society, for Adjustment to Society, I quickly realized, offers exactly what I look for in a band.
The singer embraced her fleeting moment in the limelight with wild-eyed abandon – she was by far the least inhibited, and therefore the best, performer of the fest, rocking out like a maniac and looking like a goofball, like a teenager rocking out alone in her bedroom with no fear, whipping her shirt off, getting into the crowd, mixing it up, perhaps the smallest person in the room. The music was punk. What more could I possibly want? That is a rhetorical question. The rhetorical answer, of course, is, “nothing.”
The next band, also from the Promised Land, was Hysterics, and they provided a wonderful counterpoint to Adjustment to Society.
While Adjustment validates our liberation, Hysterics validates the other side of the coin: our despondency.
This band, comprised of women playing instruments, played hardcore punk and the singer pantomimed shooting herself in the head. She looked totally miserable onstage. I saw her offstage and she looked unhappy then, too, but not quite as forlorn as she had appeared to be while in the spotlight.
The band generally played more or less straight-up hardcore. At times, they sounded like Minor Threat (and I know that reference may only serve to reinforce your perceptions regarding my absence of perspective, insight, and creativity), but I, of course, mean it as a compliment, because that is the kind of music I prefer.
In fact, at times they sounded like Courtney Love fronting Minor Threat (one of my favorite singers; one of my favorite bands).
After a lot of punk, Hysterics shifted into a grunge-rock intro and the singer made the aforementioned suicide gesture and the blissful moments culminated in the best anti-solo I’d heard in years. For one such as me it was, of course, nirvana.
After these two bands I wondered – and not for the first time (far from it) – how many times it will take me, before I go crazy, before I lose everything. There’s something burning deep inside of me. I’m having a hard time understanding. It’s all cold and demanding. She’s long gone and I’m stranded. The girls pass me by and none of them seem to go my way. I was at Damaged City, but I wished I was on the highway heading back to Olympia, but the Promised Land, as always, had to wait, because next up was
…. To be continued.