Tuesday, May 22, 2018

LIVE REVIEW - Agnostic Front "United Blood 35th Anniversary Show:" Brooklyn Bazaar, 5/20/18

(Author’s Note: Due to scheduling, I was only able to catch Agnostic Front’s full set at the Black N’ Blue Bowl. I strongly encourage you go here to find out who else played that weekend and give those bands your support.)   

This past weekend was quite possibly the most important two days in the history of New York Hardcore.  

On Saturday, the Glenn Danzig-fronted version of legendary NJ/NY horror punks The Misfits played the Garden State for the first time in 35 years (review here). In addition to long-running West Coast Hardcore/Metal crossover giants Suicidal Tendencies, the Fits brought in NYHC veterans Murphy’s Law and Harley “Cro-Mags” Flanagan to add to the festivities. It was a smart move, as both acts were on the ground floor of the scene that sprouted from places like A7 and CBGB’s at the same time the original Misfits were hand-folding seven inch sleeves and writing songs at Danzig’s house a few miles away in Lodi, NJ. Murphy’s Law and Flanagan’s bands The Stimulators and the Cro-Mags were critical to the formation of the Northeast underground music scene, and the Misfits show at the Prudential Center would not have been as memorable as it was without their inclusion. The night proved that NYHC – a genre created decades ago by outcasts to reflect the reality of their surroundings – had not only survived, but thrived to the point of becoming a global phenomenon. After years of abuse by crooked record labels and promoters, public outcries against it from TV reports and talk shows, members losing their lives to crime and addiction and the gentrification of the culture that helped define it, the scene had won.  

But the celebration wasn’t over yet.

On Sunday, Agnostic Front headlined the second day of the annual Black N’ Blue Bowl (held this year at the Brooklyn Bazaar) for a special set commemorating the 35th anniversary of their debut EP, United Blood. A record as raw and grimy as the city and era that spawned it, United Blood offered 10 songs (in less than seven minutes) that set the foundation for a band that is still going strong today – with founding guitarist Vinnie Stigma and long-serving singer Roger Miret (who’s appeared on every official AF release) still in tow. United Blood also has the distinction of featuring future Warzone singer Raybeez – who passed away in 1997 – on drums. To make the show even more special, the band pressed up a limited number of United Blood records that were personally sold by Miret at the band’s merch table.

True to the evening’s nostalgic vibe, the band’s set was comprised of United Blood and 1984’s Victim In Pain in their entirety (plus an explosive show-closing cover of Iron Cross’ “Crucified”). While nothing will replace the fire of their original versions, the United Blood songs benefitted from the musically precise power of the band’s current lineup (which is completed by 18-year AF veteran Mike Gallo on bass, former Leeway/Both Worlds drummer Pokey Mo and Slapshot guitarist Craig Silverman.) Every second the band was on stage was intense, with circle pits and group singalongs at every turn. (Vinnie and Roger are no longer young men, but you wouldn’t know it by the passion and enthusiasm they brought to each song – even those tunes that lasted less than a minute.) The highlight of the set came when Roger coaxed original AF singer John Watson on stage to provide backing vocals on a few tracks.

As a drummer, Raybeez was an incredible frontman. That said, his spastic and primitive beating on the original United Blood recording added to the EP’s overall crazed vibe – and presents an interesting challenge to a solid timekeeper who actually knows what he’s doing. Fortunately, Pokey Mo had the chops necessary to turn the maelstrom into solid punches that added an elevated musicality to the proceedings (especially on “No One Rules” – see below).    

Video directed by Drew Stone

Capping off an unforgettable weekend, Agnostic Front’s time on the Brooklyn Bazaar stage proved that the New York Hardcore scene is as real and inspiring as ever. Vinnie and Roger were there at the beginning, and they’re far they’re finished. Trends come and go, but this band’s music and integrity are timeless.

A personal note:  Back when I was a long-haired 13-year-old nerd (as opposed to the bald 40-year-old nerd I am now), I went to my first Agnostic Front show. Roger was standing at the band’s merch table, so I went up to talk to him. He gave me the time of day and answered all of my young fanboy questions. He was present in the moment, engaging and - very important to an awkward kid like myself - respectful. Later in the evening, he walked over to me, said, Thanks again for coming to the show,” and handed me a free t-shirt. I highly doubt he remembers that event, but I certainly will never forget it. It had a huge impact on me and introduced me to the spirit of inclusiveness and community that define Hardcore and the other forms of underground music that I’ve been involved in ever since. Fast-forward nearly 30 years to Sunday’s show, and Roger’s right there behind the merch table, meeting people, giving them his time and thanking them for their support. He was also courteous and giving in that way when I interviewed him back in 2007. Thats what it means to be the real thing.

Interview with Agnostic Front bassist Mike Gallo 

Agnostic Front on Facebook 

Agnostic Front on Twitter 

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

LIVE REVIEW - The Original Misfits/Suicidal Tendencies/Murphy's Law/Harley "Cro-Mags" Flanagan: Prudential Center, 5/19/18

This was the show that mattered.

For their fifth reunion show since reconvening in 2016, “The Original Misfits” (a.k.a. singer Glenn Danzig and bassist Jerry Only with long-serving guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, second six-stringer Acey Slade and legendary drummer Dave Lombardo) finally touched down in their original home state of New Jersey for a sold-out show at Newark’s Prudential Center. Considering that most of the band’s classic material was written in a Lodi, NJ home about 14 miles from the venue, anticipation for the Danzig-fronted incarnation’s first local show in 35 years was incredibly high. Fans poured out cash for high-priced tickets and merch, while more than a few of them also made the critical pilgrimage to Lodi Pizza to take in some relevant local history. This was a big fucking deal, and the inclusion of openers Suicidal Tendencies, Murphy’s Law and Harley “Cro-Mags” Flanagan made the whole thing even sweeter.

Compared to the band’s previous performance at the Forum in Los Angeles (reviewed here), The Misfits’ time in the Garden State was a less cohesive affair. “London Dungeon” was the evening’s bona fide train wreck, with Doyle often playing his guitar parts a good 10 seconds ahead of his bandmates (after Danzig came in late with the vocals). While the onstage feedback was not as prominent as it was at the Forum show, the gaps between songs were even longer this time around. (It must also be said that Danzig’s voice was clearly strained for a good chunk of the set.) But when the band hit the target, they were bulletproof: Doyle’s guitar work on “Where Eagles Dare” was the most intense thing this writer’s even seen the guy produce, and the crowd singalong during a vicious and victorious “Skulls” made every hardship the band endured over the last 41 years absolutely worth it. Lombardo, whose playing was noticeably more subdued than his fill-heavy theatrics at the Forum, kept the beats simple and strong. It was also nice to hear a solid version of “All Hell Breaks Loose,” which had limped off the tracks at the LA show after Danzig flubbed a verse.

Of course, none of the show’s sonic shortcomings meant a fucking thing. The Misfits were never about perfection (as the continued reverence for the forever-awesome Evilive - one of the most dogshit-sounding and-performed live recordings in history – clearly demonstrates). This show was about three irreplaceable performers and personalities putting their differences aside and getting on with their horror business in the place where it all began.

(The day after the show, word spread that Danzig’s mother passed away just hours before the gig. The guy still hitting the stage for what already had to be a high-pressure gig was one of the most Punk Rock things anyone has ever done. Respect and condolences.)  

Although California’s Suicidal Tendencies are quickly approaching the 40-year mark in their career, the band’s high-energy set showed no signs of age and was by far the evening’s tightest. Bouncing between old-school gems like 1983’s “I Shot The Devii” and late  80s/early 90s crossover tunes like “War Inside My Head” and “You Can’t Bring Me Down,” singer Mike Muir and company provided the perfect atmosphere to get the audience – who sported just as many Thrash/Metal band shirts as they did Crimson Ghost-emblazoned apparel – ready for the main event. Respect must be given to outrageously talented fill-in drummer Brandon Pertzborn, who sat in for regular ST timekeeper Lombardo. The guy’s been absolutely killing it in recent years (with a growing list of acts including “reunion”- era Black Flag, ho99o9 and Doyle’s solo band), and his precise playing for Suicidal was another exciting chapter in what is sure to be a long and successful career.

Murphy’s Law have always been New York Hardcore’s party band, so it was no shock that singer Jimmy Gestapo and crew brought a spirit of mischief to the stage. Naturally, the band’s set featured extended breaks that saw Gestapo goof around with the crowd (which included a little kid who was brought up on stage for the festivities). When the guys actually got around to playing music, they were completely on point, with the pro-pot anthem “Quest For Herb” being particularly, well, blazing. Few bands from the typically stone-faced New York scene could succeed in doing what Murphy’s Law have done for decades now, and their good-humored set was a reminder that Hardcore is as much about fun as it is about fury.  

Considering that the entire show was a celebration of underground music’s glorious past, there was no way to do this thing right without having Harley Flanagan on the bill. Of everyone who hit the stage at the Prudential Center, Harley’s been in this game the longest – first as a little kid hanging out at CBGB’s before those letters meant anything to anyone and later as the young drummer for first-generation NY punks The Stimulators. Of course, he made his greatest mark in NYC and the world as the leader of the classic-era Cro-Mags, whose groundbreaking music was prominently featured in his blistering (if frustratingly brief) opening set. Already sonically intense on record, Cro-Mags staples like “We Gotta Know” and “World Peace” absolutely soared in an arena setting, a feat helped along by Danzig/Samhain mainstay Steve Zing’s guest turn behind the soundboard. Full marks go to drummer Gary “G-Man” Sullivan, who effortlessly matched the fire of 80s-era Cro-Mags drummers Mackie Jayson and Petey Hines with impressive ease. (Sullivan’s live performance on “Death Camps” off 1989’s Best Wishes most intensely captured his gifts behind the kit). While the Cro-Mags continue to be a source of controversy due to their notorious in-fighting and fluctuating lineups, Harley made it clear that he still excels at what’s truly important – delivering the goods with music that could crack ribs all the way in the nosebleeds.

While it is true that the evening delivered four hours of unforgettable music, it offered an even greater meaning to those who remember seeing these bands when the phrase “back in the day” meant running the risk of getting knifed on the way to a show. Every act on this stage built something for themselves by doing it their way, and none of them were embraced by the mainstream in their early years. These groups formed during a time when it was excruciatingly difficult and often downright dangerous to be a Punk or Hardcore band. Now, they’ve sold out a frigging arena. Seeing all of these guys – and the surviving members of their original crowd – have this experience was a magical thing. Every single person who stepped on that stage Saturday night was right all along.   

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com