VICTIMOLOGY REDUX: TWO SWEATY STINKIN’ VIOLENT NIGHTS IN THE TATTERED, SENTIMENTAL HEART OF NYHC (PART ONE)
Hardcore, once a vibrant and often violent mouthpiece for socio-political and econo-cultural outrage, has become endearingly nostalgic for the bad ol’ days, where suffering and disenchantment birthed a sound and an unlikely community. Some revisionists–including those who were there, oddly enough–romanticize the 1980s, though warts-and-all accounts like Steven Blush’s American Hardcore: A Tribal History and Henry Rollins’ stark road diaries serve as reminders of the struggle and duress that bands had to operate under. How nice it must be now for groups like Agnostic Front and Killing Time to perform in the 21st century, relatively free from the heavy hand of law enforcement, accommodated by legitimate venues, and adored by people who were hardly born when they produced their unassailable classics. And yet, it must be downright bizarre to play protest songs in ever-gentrifying, hipster-ized Brooklyn. Still, after spending two nights under the dizzying influence of NYHC, such points seem almost irrelevant. Almost.
Night One: United And Strong
Sporting a metallic dual-guitar sound far removed from their original style, Agnostic Front prosper thanks to no small degree to a strident dogma of mutual respect between the band and its fans that is simultaneously oppressive and comforting. (Indeed, if a hardcore novice were to hear 1984’s Victim In Pain back-to-back with 2007’s Warriors, he’d reasonably posit that these were two completely different projects, and were he to publicly slight either record he’d likely be dressed down.) Friday night’s concert, then, was as much a gift to the group’s staunch supporters as it was a reward for a band that has survived incarceration, dismissal, and other hardships.
Taking the somewhat dubious Don’t Look Back concept to its ascetic extreme, frontman Roger Miret and iconic guitarist Vinnie Stigma decided to honor Agnostic Front’s legacy by reuniting for one gig with the group’s 1983 and 1984 rhythm sections. The setlist would be equally strict, comprised almost entirely of the material from United Blood and Victim In Pain, with a couple fan favorites from that period tacked on towards the end. The audience response was overwhelming, as I had assumed given how quickly the show sold-out The Bell House, a tidy chandeliered hall with an impressive craft beer selection and no atmosphere. Stage diving, confrontational circle pits, and physically invasive shout-alongs are commonplace at hardcore shows, but as the tight four-piece plowed through cuts like “Blind Justice” and “Your Mistake” off Victim In Pain, a real sense of reverence shot back at them from the assembled body. The title track from that record went over well, its anguished refrain “Why am I going insane / Why am I the one to blame” delivered not just by Miret, but by the entire room.
From my vantage point pressed against the side of the stage, Stigma looked like he was having an absolute blast, posing for dozens if not hundreds of cameras and frequently shouting well-received one-liners into his mic. Miret, conversely, was a much tougher read. At times, he appeared frustrated or even irritated, which could have something to do with playing songs written during a pretty dark time in his life. Yet there were quite a few moments where it was evident that he enjoyed the community and comradeship of this crowd, the majority of whom appeared to be above the age of 30. That spirit reached its zenith on the final two tracks, the first of which was their well-known cover of Iron Cross’ “Crucified” featuring noneother than Sab Grey. People stormed the stage for that one, and stayed put for “Gotta Go,” during which the microphone cut out to Miret’s visible dismay. The fans hardly minded, their chorus of shouts louder than ever. No encore necessary or possible after that one.
Openers Urban Waste and Ultra Violence set a good tone for the night of classic hardcore we had ahead of us, but Antidote gave Agnostic Front a run for their money with an impressive set of spunky originals and affectionately true covers. For the few minutes that encompassed their takes on “Filler” and “I Don’t Wanna Hear It,” I caught a glimpse of what might happen were Minor Threat ever to reunite–and it was beautiful, man.