I’m not sure that any human beings live in Bluffdale. If they do, they stay pretty well hidden. I pull over and check my GPS. Two deer trot by me, heads cocked in quizzical bewilderment. I’m on their turf. I squint down the lone gravel road. Save for a few orange construction cones and a fence, I see no evidence of anything remotely human anywhere. Exasperated, I check the flyer’s address again. “Hardcore Show in Bluffdale” it proclaims in bold varsity font. Seriously? Maybe it’s an elaborate prank where some knuckle-head makes a fake flyer that directs me to a random ghost town, I show up and everyone gets a laugh. Someone will pop out, camera in tow, pump my hand and tell me I’ve been duped. “You should of seen the look on your face! Hardcore here? You fell for that?” I fold up the flyer and stuff it back into my pocket, then glance at my cell phone. Fantastic. There’s no reception out here and I need to make some phone calls.
After finagling some cryptic directions from a friend, I pull up to the nondescript “venue.” It’s 8:00 now. My flyer says that show starts at 7:30, but nothing’s happening. I ask around, but everyone there just stares at me like stoned chimps. They don’t know anything. Hell, they don’t even know who put this show together. I’m not too worried though. Like stubborn dandelions poking their tiny yellow faces up through cracks in a concrete sidewalk, hardcore shows tend to happen despite anyone’s involvement…certainly not because of it.
Someone’s taped a piece of computer paper to the door. “Welcome to the Fearless Zone” it says in scrawled sharpie. That’s adorable. By day this place is a karate dojo, a canine beauty school and a lawnmower repair shop. Right now it’s a hangout for bored, angst ridden teens. At the far end of the steel grey room, someone’s built a sturdy plywood stage that’s a tad too high.
A healthy gaggle of kids are milling around the room. Some laugh, send text messages to their parents or sprawl out on the floor, napping or bobbing their heads to iPods. I pull out a Spanish text book. Who knows how long this will take?
An hour later, five tanned muscular (and visibly road-weary) Californians stroll in. The tallest member of the group cranes his neck to look around the room. He doesn’t say anything, but grins. Then wordlessly, he strides over to the side of the venue where a table has been set up and begins to lay out T-shirts to sell. Take Offense has arrived.
The show rolls forward with little fanfare. Two boring local bands do their best impressions of each other and fail to distinguish themselves. Provo’s Despite Despair unleashes their brand of chaotic Botch inspired craziness that normally holds my attention…but tonight they seem a bit winded. Things are moving at a slow crawl tonight. I yawn and crack my Spanish textbook open again, as Take Offense starts setting up. The band starts sound checking and a lean, dark-haired vocalist (who later identified himself simply as “AH”) picks up the mic, blows into it and snorts. His muscles twitch and his face shines. He’s enthused and ready to inject this groggy audience with a stiff slap of high energy hardcore.
A gangly drummer clicks off four distinct stick counts and AH sets about tearing back and forth across the stage, periodically pumping a wiry arm in the air. A percolating floor tom beats a steady rhythm before exploding into an electrifying wave of thrash fury. Eyes bulge, nostrils flare and cantankerous heavy metal beasts roar to life. Amidst this acrobatic spectacle, two stone faced skinheads clad in Fred Perry polos and Oxblood boots trade guitar riffs. Fingers clenched in deft down-strokes and gripping slippery frictionless fret boards they do their damndest to conjure up the bay area thrash gods of yore. “It’s cold in Utah. I wanna go home!” AH declares when the song winds down, eliciting strained laughs from the audience. There’s little banter between songs, sans an occasional cough and a tightened tuning peg, but there’s no awkwardness. Having honed their chops with local gigs over the years, they’ve grown cohesive and tight…and they know it. A few audience members heckle, pleading for a warzone cover. AH smirks and shrugs before tearing his shirt off and waving it around his head. “Let’s see a circle pit!” he whoops, and the audience eagerly complies. Everything snaps together in an off kilter synergy that’s both iron-fisted and chaotic. The walls pump with a buzzing staccato and the windows rattle in time with the frenetic snare beat. Kids fling themselves into each other, clamber onto the stage or beat their fists into their pubescent chests. The band tears on, completely in the pocket, inflating their NYHC meets Bay Area thrash sound to fill the room and it sounds absolutely vicious. Deafening, hyper-fast and boasting coherence far beyond their hardcore peers, Take Offense completely commands this show. Though powerful on record, their live show is infinitely beefier and for twenty blistering minutes, nothing is bigger than these five musicians. Seemingly never missing a beat, and ablaze with a euphoric glow, AH brings the careening ruckus to a grinding stop. “This is our last one,” he yelps, his voice shaken from his vigorous performance. On cue, the audience melts into a roiling blob of hair, sweat and flailing limbs. A particularly throaty rendition of “Happiness Under Chains” has everyone in wide-eyed histrionics, and for 90 seconds no one can separate the singer from the clawing audience. AH emerges smirking triumphantly. The exhausted band members shuffle about packing up their equipment. He coughs, thanks everyone for watching and sheepishly asks if anyone can put him and his band mates up for the night.
After Take Offense, Richmond Virginia’s Naysayer lurch into their set. Though heavy and unrelenting, the band’s breed of numbingly uninspired Madball mosh does little to excite, and practically digs for new levels of dullness. I watch them dubiously, still shaken by the previous performance. It graciously ends and I wander outside. Kids are gesturing excitedly, talking about the sets they’ve witnessed. One fan with a backwards cap is hunched over, his hands cupped around his mouth, shirt completely drenched in sweat. I ask if he’s alright and he looks up at me. Then, gurgling under the cadmium wash of a freshly bloodied nose he proclaims “I just saw my two favorite bands!”
A hardcore show just happened in Bluffdale.