Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Live Review: Converge (Deathwish Inc. Family Picnic Edition)

*Photo (theologically) liberated vis a vis Brooklyn Vegan/Black Bubblegum

DenimXcore was in full effect tonight, for sure. The thing I ended up most noting about the Converge/Genghis Tron/Ceremony/Coliseum/Pulling Teeth show (essentially the hardcore equivalent of an old school "That Thing You Do"-esque Motown revue sort of tour) is the divide between the scene. Since I started going to shows around 2004 and became way too aware of the various minutiae of metal and hardcore, there's been a noticeable schism between the tough-guy, post-NYxHC/FSU lughead mosh/bro-core that came up after all forms of punk pretty much died creatively in the mid-80's that still tours but mainly with metalcore bands and generally other Affliction tee-shirt friendly breakdown-centric bands and an ever increasing amount of hardcore bands from this decade that is equally informed by extreme metal, Swedish hardcore, sludge, old school D-beat, Black Flag, and Converge themselves. There's a clear scene, if you can call it that, coalescing around venues like the Charleston and Europa which have pretty much, whether by profit or by personal interest (or both) taken up the cause of putting on the vast majority of these recent denimXcore shows.

DenimXcore is essentially a more genuine flip on the Vice/Pitchfork approved hipster metal enthusiasts, who essentially are just as trend-chasing as the Wavves-loving reverbXcore (more on that later)/blog-house kids that are the majority in what's left of indie of late but only listen to doom and black metal and occasionally retro-thrash, thoroughly eschewing death metal and hardcore out of some misplaced concept of artistic credibility or coolness, on in the case of Municipal Waste fans, "fun". The thought seems to be that doom and black metal are more serious and less stupid than death metal and hardcore, but if you're realistic about music, all genres are both brilliant and stupid in their own ways.

Whereas you can still go see Madball, Terror, and Poison the Well on a bill together and see your cliche "Your Scene Sucks" fratXcore kid, these sort of hardcore and grind shows manage to pull together an audience that definitely not only has a more varied taste but manages not to give off the stench of white male ignorance/homoeroticism and general fail the same way you would at a Whitechapel/Emmure/generic deathcore band show. The way I described the vibe in most of my conversations about this show is basically "grown-ass-man-hardcore". These are people who went through the ringer of the mid-to-late 90's or the early 00's of hardcore, metalcore, and/or grind and have become actual functioning adults. These are motherfuckers with jobs or degrees or at the very least are older and significantly more interesting than a bunch of Boston rednecks who form crews to police venues like its the 50's again.

And the term "denimXcore" is pretty apt. The vast majority of the twenty-somethings and older involved are still rocking/bringing back the post-hardcore flannel aesthetic(the non-hipster version, buttoned up and tight, through there was the grungy lumberjack variant floating 'round), sludge vests, and lots of military colors, resembling a sea of black and green swaying like Romans to D-beat tales of self-sufficiency and betrayed trust. At this point, the only interesting metal/hardcore shows in NYC involve these guys, as death metal's been dead as a doornail for years (especially in light of the stagnancy and myopia of most touring packages), and black metal is rarely interesting live.

The actual bands were pretty much a blur until Coliseum got onstage. The problem with scenes and the nature of half of the Deathwish Inc. label's roster in general is that some of the bands are very much indistinguishable. The fact that Pulling Teeth and Rise and Fall didn't really offer interesting live performances, just the same nu-hardcore "Taxi Driver" inward intensity that's the default for any hardcore band worth a shit, didn't really help.

Coliseum was a joy for a couple of reasons. One, the bass player was really goofy and seemed extremely out of place, as if they'd imported the guy from a prog or power metal band with all of his oldXmanXrock moves and constant hopping on one leg Andrew W.K-isms. Two, Coliseum's take on the common mix of catchy hardcore played with a rock feel and influence was surprisingly uplifting. I couldn't put my finger on it but during the set there was something really anthemic about the band. They had a quality of sounding triumphant and major key without actually being major key or poppy. Half the songs they played I really dug, which said something since its so difficult to get into new songs in a live setting where you can't really differentiate what's going on properly. The only band on the set that I hadn't listened to before whose music I immediately went home and stole afterward. Although on record, they're not that interesting.

Ceremony's set was by far my favorite, mainly for how intense and awkward the whole thing was. And in all seriousness it was the first moment in 5 years of going to shows in NYC that I felt like I was at a PUNK show as opposed to anything else. First of all, the guitar player looked like a woman. Not in a derisive way, I mean literally, until he turned around you could swear you were ogling a tall blonde woman. Like a more boyish, prettier Sebastien Bach.
As soon as I saw the guy, I had a feeling what I was about to see was going to be weird and amazing. And it was. Their throat came a bit late, completely removed from the dress code and looking like he came over straight from a cubicle. Whether the fact that they seemed to be purposefully antagonistic or that I perceived them to be affected how much I loved their set, I don't know, but it was everything I hadn't been getting from the shows I'd been to. One, the frontman was funny, whether intentional or unintentional, intense and pretty fearless. Two, their femeneen guitar play actually frequently did 80's hair metal spins and dances that resembled a more fey freestyle gymnastics arm twirl. Third, their songs were either chant-heavy plodding 80's hardcore death marches or 20 second bursts. Fourth, the previously congenial crowd suddenly got real Gilman Street and formed that sharp incline of screaming bodies you see in the better videos of hardcore shows and surprised the shit out of me by knowing the words to almost every song.The quality of the songs didn't really matter, as there was pretty much only one or two good ones played by them during their set, but the fact that I couldn't tell whether these guys were that interesting and odd or if I was being Andy Kaufman'ed made them a highlight for bringing a bit of showmanship to the night.

Genghis Tron were next but Board Up The House was shit so, like the Red Chord and Mastodon, its kind of a chore to sit through their set waiting for the good songs. Although with the overhead of lights and equipment that they bring on tour with them I sort of feel for being such a small niche band on a label known for never paying their artists.

After hours of bands, Converge came on. They pretty much did the same set they did last year at the Blender Theater but a lot more laidback and fun. In fact, out of my three and a half times seeing them since 2005, I've never seen them do a more fun and entertaining show. Jacob wasn't needlessly proselytizing about life and the tribulations of being from New England as much, the entire band told jokes, especially after Jacob was hug-tackled offstage by a fan and shrugged it off by making rape-baby jokes with Nate instead of throwing a shitfit, which is what I would've expected from him based on seeing them in 2005. Kurt, the man pretty much behind all of this denimXcore shit in one form or another along with Jacob, even found the time to eat a chocolate cream donut onstage during the one handed hammer-on/pull-off section of "The Broken Vow". I've never left a Converge set disappointed by the songs or set choices since the band has 4 great albums to cull stuff from and is one of a handful of acts (TV on the Radio, Ghostface, Jonathan Richman) where I vouch for enough of their work to never fear a shitty song being played. As usual, they sounded impeccable, although I could still use some more out of Jacob as a frontman, solely because the whole Christ/angel hand thing doesn't really work for me.

They ended their set with the only good song from Wolverine Blues..."Wolverine Blues", and oddly brought out John Pettibone from Himsa onstage to sing it. Though slightly odd, especially because I didn't know these guys hung out like that (or rather I'm always surprised when people from shitty bands get pulled onstage with people from great bands), this encapsulated the night, and the scene as well; just a bunch of semi-employed hardcore adults that love listening to Entombed.