Agnostic Front's current lineup. Photo: www.koutmedia.com
I never think it’s a good idea to have a hardcore show at a bar. It’s not some condescending “principles” thing either, because everyone should get their rocks off how they want … it just doesn’t seem like a smart business move. Hardcore is a youth-oriented genre with lots of teenage fans, and it seems silly to eliminate such a large (paying!) segment from enjoying the music. I’m just saying that the gaggle of 16-20-year-olds milling about outside Burt’s, dejected because they couldn’t get in for their favorite bands (one of which is comprised of underage members) … well, it seemed like a colossal and unavoidable bummer. I haven’t promoted a show in years (more headache than its worth), so I won’t pretend to understand the nuances of concert promoting, but hardcore’s my bread and butter … and it needs to be all ages––end of story.
Still, Burt’s is a venue with plenty of ragged soul and an acrid dive-bar atmosphere that attracts miscreants from all over, so (being of age) it was cool to be there. Walls covered in gig flyers from the ‘90s, charmingly rancid bathrooms and a small stage … it’s a cool little punk locale that’s hosted countless of the “classic” bands over the years, and makes me all the more excited for some of the upcoming metal shows there (Weedeater? Come on, you know you wanna).
Opening act Naysayer’s Utah experience has been eclectic. Their debut performance got cut abysmally short when none of their fans could watch them (it was booked at a bar), but being resilient ‘core dogs, they trekked back a few months ago to play a triumphant show at a youth rec center in Bluffdale with Take Offense. Long established road warriors, promoting their new record Laid to Rest (on Reaper Records) has given an added live bite to their Madball-inspired madness, and tonight yielded their best Beehive state reaction thus far. The crew was tight, energetic and confident and they burned through cuts spanning their recorded output up to and including the demo. Crowd participation was high (especially the gang-chant on “Affliction”) and mosh readings generally favorable (minus one splooser who kept ninja kicking in the middle. Remember when kung fu was cool at shows? Yeah, me neither). Seeing ‘em come off the stage all smiles … it was a redemptive and robust set for a hardworking band that deserves it.
New Jersey’s Mongoloids seemingly get more press for their offstage antics (and goofy shirt designs) than on, but their Salt Lake debut went off without any hitches. Opening with a rollicking cover of Life of Agony’s “River Runs Red” was a good crowd move and even got some of the old timers up front and finger-pointing. Maybe I’m just attracted to controversy, but I was almost miffed that there wasn’t any salty stage banter or dramatic onstage posturing. Frankie Mongoloid seemed genuinely pleased with the solid reaction his band was getting, and kept thanking the crowd. That’s cool, too. Their sound doesn’t rub everyone the right way (and the vocals may be an acquired taste), but the band is water tight on all musical fronts, and they owned the stage. Guitar work was incredible, solos unmatched and generally, the guys didn’t miss a single beat. I even saw a few solid stage dives pop off (to the chagrin of the bouncers). It’s always nice to see things get a little bit rowdy when needs be.
Agnostic Front doesn’t really need an explanation, but hardcore geekery forces me into it. I’ve seen ‘em a few times so far, and it’s mostly been touring off new albums. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some delusional goober (let me finish) who tries to craft some fascist cock and bull hardcore fantasy land, insisting that nothing was good after 1988. That’s just lame. Hardcore’s been good in all eras … but admittedly, I haven’t followed AF’s new stuff as much as others. When the rumor-mill began a-churnin’ that they’d been playing their 1984 debut full-length Victim in Pain in its entirety at all their recent live shows … well, my interest was piqued and I did my damndest to get there.
If for nothing else, Agnostic Front’s ability to bring out the old timers is uncanny. Like some Penelope Spheeris interpretation of the infamous Star Wars cantina scene, Burt’s quickly started filling up with every incarnation of old punk, skin and general malefactor … and things started to get electric. Even more so, it warmed the cockles of my tiny blackened heart to see these legends take the stage. No pretension and no condescension … just smiles, guitars and a need to play their music. Big ups for not losing touch.
The set started off with everything I could’ve asked for. “Victim in Pain” into “Blind Justice” into “The Eliminator?” Are you kidding me? It was like a ‘core smorgasbord. I went into requisite adolescent hardcore kid rage and even snuck in a stage dive during “Your Mistake” and had to lay low for a bit … but everything was poppin’ off! (Big apologies to the dude who’s head I stepped on. I tried to find him afterward, but he’d already bailed. Casualty of the core.) Roger Miret had a grin plastered across his face the whole time, Stigma’s riffs were spot on and the youth mosh was next level. When Frankie Mongoloid took the mic for a rendition of “United Blood,” you’d have thought they were hosting stage-dive clinics up there. Kids rushing and flipping off at every angle. Absolutely incredible.
Maybe it was the high concentration of skinheads present, or maybe it’s just because it’s been a while since AF’s come to Salt Lake, but I was slightly disappointed when my promise of hearing Victim in Pain all the way through got shattered. Regardless of my feelings, “Crucified” got the best reaction of the night, everyone with a head clipped to 2-guard or lower rushing the stage, and “Gotta Go” has one of the most infectious sing-alongs of all time … as made manifest by every single person in the bar mouthing the words. The new stuff got people more excited than anything else, and I can’t fault ‘em for that.
When the set ground to a close, seeing Stigma circle the stage to hug, high-five and handshake everyone in attendance was a real trip. Not trying to get all Norman Rockwell on ya, but the dude’s been rumored as being the nicest guy in hardcore. It’s great to see it in action.
Elating and enthusing, it’s the kind of affirming show that made me stoked on the ‘core and less stoked on my crappy suburban life. Great bands from all eras coming together to play empowering and caustic music will never get old to me, and seeing one of the all-time hardcore classics still playing with all the potency and relevance of any contemporary new-jack … well, that’s worth the admission price. My heart does go out to the tots who couldn’t get in, but like SSD always said … oh never mind. It would’ve been cool to see them all moshing into State Street and jumping off of parking medians. This ain’t Jimmy Buffett. Raise some Hell.