Live Review, 3/10/12: Ceremony Presides Over Hardcore Chaos at 924 Gilman
Cold World at 924 Gilman on Saturday.
Cold World, Old Firm Casuals, The Nubs, No Sir
Saturday, March 11, 2012
924 Gilman St.
[Editor's note: Writer Sam Lefebvre's camera was destroyed while covering this show. So instead of pictures, this post includes some video from Saturday's performance, as well as past Ceremony sets at 924 Gilman.]
Better than: Audience enthusiasm for openers at local indie rock shows.
Ceremony's performance Saturday night at 924 Gilman St. caught the Rohnert Park band at the tail end of an awkward musical transition. But the entire evening demonstrated the superior audience participation at punk shows, compared to other local rock shows.
The all-ages crowd was already packed and furiously moshing when North Bay hardcore band No Sir took stage. Following them was an inspired set from The Nubs, a reunited San Francisco punk band whose sole single appears on the notorious rare punk compilation series Killed by Death. That set elicited rampant pogo dancing from the crowd, but the audience's response to The Old Firm Casuals -- a self-declared Oi! band fronted by Rancid's Lars Frederiksen -- was the wildest so far, with chanted vocals and a circle pit that occupied most of the dancefloor.
It's noteworthy that the audience had almost completely filed in for these first few bands, and even sang along and danced with their sets -- because that isn't the case at most other local rock shows. Typically, at an indie rock gig in a club or bar, there are hardly any attendees present for the openers, let alone participating. There may be more attendees smoking cigarettes outside the club than watching the first few bands. But at a punk show, fans will be on stage grappling to sing into the microphone along with the opener's lead vocalist, not standing outside or in the back of the venue. This sort of communion -- the elimination of the performer/audience barrier -- is one of the most impressive aspects of punk. But as was the case with Saturday's fourth set, from Cold World, it can come with an unsavory elements.
Cold World played thuggish, simple hardcore that took heavy cues from New York hardcore bands with their relentless breakdowns and chanted, nearly rap-esque vocal delivery. Before shouldering into their first song, the audience was already engaged in what is commonly referred to as hardcore dancing. Resembling Super Nintendo videogame characters in martial arts combat, this style includes indiscriminate flailing of fists and some spin kicks while moving side-to-side from one edge of the dancefloor to the other. If this sounds brutish and intimidating, it was, especially when gargantuan men with masks over their heads violently took part in the proceedings. This variety of hardcore is frequently criticized for its macho posturing, for cultivating an uncomfortable environment for anyone but the burliest, and that criticism rang particularly true during Cold World's performance. Granted, the overall spirit between the band and the audience was electric, but the sense of it being a boy's club was overwhelming.
Recent Matador Records signees Ceremony certainly looked like an odd gaggle of punks on stage. Wearing suspenders with no shirt, charged hair, and smeared face paint, the guitarist looked like a filmmakers' depiction of a punk in some dystopian epic. The singer donned an unassuming white T-shirt with bulging eyes and a nervous demeanor.
The set drew from the entirety of the band's career, alternating between powerviolence, straight-ahead punk, and slower garage-rock tunes. The early material easily elicited the most zealous reaction from the crowd. There were unidentifiable objects flying threw the air, bodies flung upon the merchandise table, bloody noses, attacks on the singer, and everybody singing along. At one point, the mass of bodies upon the stage seemed to break all of the equipment at once. The microphone made some funny noises and cut out, the guitar stopped, and everything was lost to a ruckus of exhausted crowd vocals and shoving.
Ceremony at 924 Gilman, May 28, 2011
In between the singer's provocative banter with the audience, he seemed to smirk ever so slightly. To assert that he was laughing at himself would be overly presumptuous, but his sly smiles seemed to indicate bewilderment at the entire spectacle before him, and an intense pondering of the fact that his powerviolence band has ended up labelmates with Belle & Sebastian.
Perhaps it was the ceaseless squeal of feedback that no one attempted to correct, the broken amplifier that had to be replaced, or the din of shouted lyrics, but Ceremony's live sound was not remotely good in the traditional sense. If an attendee wasn't already familiar with the songs, they wouldn't be by the time they left, either. Interestingly, a couple of the slower tracks culled from the band's most recent record rendered the crowd absolutely motionless, and relatively quiet. Perhaps it's because fans haven't yet digested the new material, or perhaps they were just shocked by the pedestrian garage-rock tunes that comprise the bulk of Zoo, Ceremony's new Matador offering. The frenzy would return immediately upon the beginning of an older ripper, but the new songs seemed to leave the audience cold.
The stylistic transitions between songs were awkward, but not enough to deter the adoring frenzy of the crowd overall. Judging by this show, whatever surprising genre-flirting Ceremony may attempt on its recordings won't affect the rabid devotion of Bay Area fans who have latched on to its early songs as anthems.
Overheard: After the show, a young punk said to his friend, "Someone was stuck on the floor and kept grabbing my leg!" To which his friend replied, "That was me, motherfucker!"
Most committed straight-edge tattoo: Cold World's singer had "Guerilla Straight Edge" emblazoned in huge academy lettering across his entire back.