Saturday night, I ran from an intimate Rivers Cuomo show at the Hi Hat to a hardcore fury at the Echoplex, and if I missed a few bands which were opening the mayhem, I caught the incendiary craziness of American Nightmare, one of the most dangerous bands around.
I arrived for FireBurn, a band which obviously made me think about Bad Brains since they played some violent hardcore numbers and cooled them down with a reggae song in the middle… They were led by singer Ras Israel Joseph I, who was commanding the stage with a reggae-colored beret and an athletic attitude, and he even had a sort of H.R. operatic howls. But I should have done my homework before going because Joseph I was actually in the Bad Brains from 1991–1994 (and even appeared on the album Rise), and it turns out that FireBurn is a hardcore supergroup, which, beside Joseph I, includes drummer Nick Townsend (Deadbeat, Knife Fight), guitarist Todd Jones (Nails, ex-Terror), and guitarist Todd Youth (ex-Warzone, Danzig, Murphy’s Law). With such line-up, the set was obviously raucous and brought a high energy with ultra fast guitar riffs and explosive drumming. They released at the end of last year a debut EP ‘Don’t Stop the Youth’ on Closet Casket Activities and seemed to be a revival of the old-school punk of the ‘90s, with hardcore assaults and a few metal-like ferocious charges. But it was anger with a touch of Jamaican love: ‘Life is about love and not about hate’ told us singer Ras Israel Joseph in the middle of the set.
TORSO, a D-beat Hardcore band from Oakland, was fronted by a young woman, and this is not that often that women participates into this display of furious anger. Their songs were short and catapulted by a raging guitar, fast drumming and plenty of distortion combined with high energy. Fearless Yasmine the singer was jumping and restlessly walking the stage from left to right like a caged tigress, screaming her lines with the appropriate rage and anger. By the way, to claim yourself to D-beat (after Discharge) means a political speech and anarchist themes beside a raw sound made of intense drone rhythms and distorted grinding guitars, and if I couldn’t understand what she was screaming, the intense conviction of her yells was telling everything.
The bands had certainly prepared the place for a high-energy show, but nothing can really prepare anyone for American Nightmare. It’s hard to believe that the hardcore band from Boston is already 20 years old, but after a name changed to Give Up the Ghost, 7 years of disbandment and a reunion in 2011, they are back with a vengeance, their original name, and a new self-title album, their first one in 15 years, just released last month via Rise Records/Heartworm Press/Deathwish Inc./Smart Punk.
There is probably just a few hardcore bands which can rise hell as they do, I was warned by a few people that I would probably not be able to take photos on the edge of the stage, but the warning was unnecessary, I had seen them before and couldn’t get even close to the stage during their set at the FYF fest a few years ago.
First of all, singer Wesley Eisold (who also fronts the band Cold Cave) is an incredible frontman, constantly bathing in the crowd, aggressively leaning over the heads of the front row, giving the finger over rows of fists in the air. It’s this incredible fusion between the band leader and his screaming fans, which transforms an American Nightmare show into a unique experience. While the sound is bulldozing the place, the tsunami-wave of the front rows follows every step of Eisold’s explosion of rage, while another group of people constantly stage dive in front of the oblivious security. At this point, I was already on stage, standing at one corner and feeling more or less safe, although you never know where people can run from during such chaos.
When it comes to hardcore, it seems that bands sometimes are willing to outbidding the next one in violence, energy and loudness, and if I have seen Refused live, American Nightmare comes right among the top ones, incendiary, earthshaking while the music, roaring and grinding, wants to crack the stage in half. The riffs were thick and insanely loud, the tempo was fast and trailblazing, and while people were screaming all the lyrics in a raging choir, I could not really understand if this was one long crazy song or plenty of short ones! However I saw the setlist, and they played 16 songs, but some of the new tunes were only 40 second-long!!
Some of the songs may have been 17 years old, other ones were very recent, but Eisold was screaming with the same despair and aggressiveness in his vocals from start to finish, surrounded by bassist Josh Holden, guitarist Brian Masek, and drummer Alex Garcia-Rivera… and if I seen a few hardcore bands before, and bathed in a muscular ocean of testosterone, American Nightmare has this distinct look that makes them different from other hardcore bands, this gothic element, this dark angel as a décor, and existential lyrics essentially preoccupied with death and suffering, while the song titles float between ideas of betrayal, dream and war.
There was not much interruption of this mayhem for about 40 minutes, until the encore and two more songs, ending with ‘Crisis of Faith’ and its claustrophobic lyrics which seemed to match the atmosphere of the show, ‘I need more space/I can’t even think/I need more air/I can’t even breathe’… at this point, a lot of people may have looked for air, before taking care of their bruises the day after.
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