BEST LIVE BANDS/SHOWS OF 2008
Something a little different this time--and I'll also be doing a best of 2008 record list in the next week or two as well. First off, I'll be including a few photos with the text but, if you want to see a bunch more, go to my Flickr page.
On with the shows (sorry). I didn't go to quite as many of 'em this year. Probably just a shade over 40, in fact, which is probably still a lot to most people. And out of all of them, only a handful were club shows, at the Midway in Jamaica Plain, one at Church, near Fenway Park, one at the Paradise and two (on the same day) in New York City. The rest were at arts spaces, halls, basements, warehouses and other DIY venues. I haven't been to the Middle East or TT the Bear's in Cambridge in years. It's got to be hitting ten years for TT's (maybe longer) and 4 or 5 for the Middle East, I think. It's not because I necessarily dislike those places but there hasn't been much to draw me there and, truth be told, I didn't have the energy or inclination to go to the shows that did catch my interest. I just hope that some larger spaces continue to be available/start doing shows again--I'm talking about the Ratscellar, which is in the basement of a warehouse and holds up to 200 people.
These are more or less in chronological order and, for each show, I mention the bands that stood out, besides the 'headliner.' Incidentally, with very few exceptions, shows shouldn't be more than four bands...
VITAMIN X, 1/15 and 10/17... with FRUIT SALAD on 1/15 and PERDITION on 10/17, Democracy Center/Papercut 'Zine Library, Cambridge
I've never been disappointed seeing Vitamin X live, going back to when they played a tiny room at the Art Haus at Tufts and there was a big circle pit going through a couple of rooms and through the hallway. Both of these shows were wild and sweaty affairs, a wild whirlwind of activity on the dancefloor and a slam-bang array of hardcore punk. Fruit Salad have really come into their own the past few years, mixing up grind, thrash and heaviness into a killer combo--and that wasn't the only good set I saw them play this year. Crust/thrashers Perdition were excellent for the one song I saw them play in October. Unfortunately, some nimrod "traveler" assholes, who had been ejected, decided to throw a couple of bricks thorugh the window behind the drummer, ending the show and costing hundreds of dollars in damages. Real punk, fuckheads...
DIRECT CONTROL, SOCIAL CIRCKLE, WASTED TIME, ACID REFLUX, CHEAP TRAGEDIES, Ratscellar, Boston, 2/16
This was my birthday show and could have also been a de-facto No Way/Grave Mistake mini-fest. Cleveland's Cheap Tragedies, fronted by the one-and-only Tony Erba, didn't garner much of a response and this band is a little more tuneful than his other units. He was sick as a dog so there weren't many stage antics and I completely botched Black Flag's "Police Story" when doing a guest vocal--I thought we were doing "Where There's Smoke" by Slapshot and didn't realize what song it was until the first chorus. Oops. Anyway, Eric from DC/WT was late so, during the wait, Acid Reflux did a quick impromptu set. Eric showed up, his bandmates seemed mighty pissed at him and they harnessed that anger into one of the most punishing hardcore sets I've saw all year. Just ruthless. Social Circkle celebrated the release of their 7" with a fun, energetic showing and Direct Control wrapped things up with their aggressive old-school thrash. My kind of birthday party!
AMERICAN CHEESEBURGER, Ratscellar, 2/29
One of the wildest hardcore punk bands going right now. Amazing stage presence from everyone, including their drummer Jason, who was running around with toilet paper wrapped around his head before they played. Here's the proof in this short clip I shot:
PISSED JEANS, WASTE MANAGEMENT, Oxford Cafe, Tufts University, 4/12
Pissed Jeans are a good example of a band who I'm not all that into on record (although I've warmed up to 'em a bit) but, live, it's a much different story. Completely unhinged in a noise-laden/Flipper/Jesus Lizard/Birthday Party sorta way. Vocalist Matt Korvette is a focal point, including when he was humping a large African drum (I think). Waste Management are one of my favorite newer Boston area hardcore bands. Boiling over early 80s NY/Boston aggro. They sometimes start off with a cover and it was Negative Approach's "Lost Cause" here. Good crowd-pleasing angle but their own songs accomplish that by itself.
SYSTEMATIC DEATH, DROPDEAD, AS-200, Providence, 5/3
Systematic Death are, hands down, the best band I saw in 2008. Anyone who thinks reunions are lame/a waste of time didn't see these Japanese legends tear the place apart for nearly an hour. The show sold out well in advance (they added an earlier one, in fact) and people traveled far and wide. Raw, ravenous and never flagging, powered by some amazing drumming. I won't forget this one soon. I don't get to see Dropdead that often and they didn't disappoint either with some blazing fodder. I missed almost all of Tragedy, who played between the two bands but I saw them play a pretty decent set at Welfare Records a week or so before that that was pretty potent. And, truth be told, I was there to see one band and it was mind-blowing.
CAREER SUICIDE, STRAIGHTJACKET NATION, MENS INTEREST, Cake Shop, Manhattan and The Charelston, Brooklyn, 6/7
The only overnight roadtrip I took for a show this year and it was because SJN didn't play Boston--they did play Providence, but that was the same night as Gasmask Terror in Boston--a French d-beat band who do the sound very well and are one of the "runners up" for this list (can't list every show I saw!). Considering Career Sucide have played the Boston area a grand total of one time and I usually end up seeing them out of town, this was an added treat as they remain one of the most energetic punk bands in existence. SJN are from Australia and I've been a fan of their high-powered old school hardcore sound since hearing their first 7" and they didn't disappoint one bit. Mens Interest, a band with Shaun from Cold Sweat/Repercussions on vocals and people from Waste Management, Mind Eraser, etc, dishing out some intense, off-kilter hardcore. Hot as fuck in the city that weekend and, thankfully, both spaces were in the basement and cool. I just wish I'd known about the free pizza if you purchased a drink deal at the Charleston. Oh well...
MISSION OF BURMA, Paradise, Boston, 6/13
$20 is a bit steep for a show in this economy; hell, it's steep period but this was the second of two shows where Burma played their vintage stuff. The night before was "Signals Calls and Marches" (wish I'd seen it) and this show was "Vs.," played in order, along with some of the newer songs. I do get puzzled when I hear youngsters say the modern-day Burma songs blow away the old ones. Actually, it makes me want to violently shake some sense into these misguided people's brains. Anyway, this was a lot better than the rather subdued, sit-down show I saw at the ICA (an art museum) last year. By the time Burma released "Vs." in 1982, they'd perfected their tandem of abrasive and tuneful elements although I found out recently that some of these songs actually came from their early days. It was topped off with a cover of Unnatural Axe's "They Saved Hitler's Brain," featuring guest vocals from that band's Richie Parsons. An electrifying trip down memory lane.
TOTAL ABUSE, Ratscellar, 6/16
The last (as of now) show at the Ratscellar almost didn't happen there but it's a long story. The Texas band's show has expanded from its chaotic thrash base into something that pushes those parameters. Vocalist Rusty Kelley set up a table in front of the stage with effects and an amplified tin can. They mixed up the straight ahead songs with clattering, heavier abrasiveness and it made for an intriguing, unpredictable performance.
SEX/VID, Cottage Street Studio, Springfield, 7/19
So Sex/Vid's Boston show fell through and it was relocated to this space, next to a potato chip warehouse in a desolate part of Springfield, with nothing much around except for a Dunkin Donuts but if you spit more than a few feet in Massachusetts, you'll hit a Dunks. The studio is actually a warehouse space itself and in a hot room on the second floor. No Fucker opened and Mind Eraser played last. No Fucker do the distorto d-beat thing very well but you couldn't hear the guitar this time--they were better at the Ratscellar in March. Mind Eraser are always intense live but this was Sex/Vid's night. Probably 20 minutes in length, maybe a bit longer but no let-up with the thrashed-out sizzle-whizzle assault, then culminating with the dirge-like intensity of "Always Home," from the "Nests" EP. Worth the drive...
COP ON FIRE
COP ON FIRE, MALE NURSES, Democracy Center, 9/26
I saw a couple of bands from Spain this year. Invasion in May and Cop on Fire at this show. They were late arrivals, barely having time to set and play but they were pillaging. Crust 'n thrash that wails away with savage riffs, walloping drums and hoarse vocals. Male Nurses, who opened up, are a promising new local band playing in an old-school vein.
WALLS, MIND ERASER, BREATHING FIRE, MENS INTEREST, Quincy Cage, Harvard University, 11/14
As of now, this is the last show I attended in '08 and it was interesting from a few different angles. First off, it was one of those shows where the feelings of alienation built up over the evening. Just one of those shows where I felt like an outsider. The venue itself was interesting--in the basement of a Harvard dorm. You get off an elevator and the show space is inside a fenced area, essentially. Considering how crazy things got at times, one thought of the possibility of a steel cage match or even the "Beyond Thunderdome" Road Warrior movie. All four of these bands play off-kilter hardcore in one way or another. Actually, Breathing Fire and Mind Eraser both follow the slow-heavy/grind-blast/sick vocal blueprint and Mens Interest were covered earlier in this piece. Walls, from Washington state, consist of former members of Cold Sweat and it's another band I enjoyed better live than on record. Dark, heavy, lurching sounds. The best was saved for last, though--a brief Cold Sweat reunion and things got crazy once Shaun grabbed the mike and it was a treat, considering I never got to see them when they played here earlier. An eruption of speed and chaos. I don't know if this is necessarily one of the best shows I saw this year--as I said, there were sour feelings when I left--but it was one of the more memorable ones. Walls are definitely a subject for further research, to quote Robert Christgau.