For the third year in a row, Houston's Bad Ass Weekend, a three-day festival focusing on all different types of metal and punk music, lived up to its name. The last couple of days leading up to the festival were filled with a few last minute band cancellations due to weather and unfortunate run-ins with law enforcement, but nothing enough to derail the festival.
Organized by founders JC Newton and Jaron Sayers, BAW was spread across Fitzgerald's, Walters, Mango's, Rudyard's and Black Barbie. In the week leading up to the festival, the founders warned people on Facebook to arrive early to the smaller venues because they would fill up, but the weekend turned out to be more successful than anticipated as Fitzgerald's ended up selling out on Saturday night.
The weekend started off focusing on punk, with Fitzgerald's hosting a wide array of hardcore and crust-punk bands. Government Issue, the influential '80s D.C. band playing a handful of one-off reunion shows, led the hardcore acts upstairs. They sounded good, but their age showed in singer John Stabb's "dad" jokes and more than a few false starts to songs. While they did a good job, the younger local acts stole the show.
Houston's Common Ignorance was the first band to get a real pit started Friday.Houston's Common Ignorance played a fiery set early in the night and were the first band to really open a pit in the space. Following that, hometown heroes Back to Back came on and destroyed the room. Singer Chaney Lim seemed more hostile than usual, stalking the stage and playing with an intensity that showed why they remain one of the best current bands in Houston.
Downstairs Friday night at Fitzgerald's was filled with highlights early in the night like Gasmiasma, a brutal New Orleans band containing members of Down and Eyehategod. The big draw was the reunited '90s hardcore act Catharsis, who leveled the crowd with their intensity. Singer Brian D told some interesting stories throughout the set, indicating that the last time Catharsis played Houston they had to sneak out of town in the middle of the night to run from the police, who apparently had them pegged for attempted homicide.
But none of Friday's sets at Fitzgerald's matched the intensity of the late-night shows Friday night at Mango's. The smaller, soon-to-be-gone venue helped the environment by crafting a crowded, frenzied atmosphere not present at the larger Fitzgerald's Friday night. Two bands from Pittsburgh stole this show, using gimmicks that enhanced their sets instead of becoming distractions from them. Drug Lust came out wearing balaclavas, a shtick that ran the risk of being lame, but their music more than made up for it as they stirred up an intense pit.
Following them was Eel, who were simply batshit insane. Their songs were as energetic, if not more than the rest of the bands, and they added to that with one of the stranger sights of the night. One member took a handheld buzzsaw to a mike stand, angling it so that it shot out sparks into the crowd throughout the set. It was reckless and likely dangerous, but also made for the most exciting set of the weekend.
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While the first day provided a wide selection of punk acts, the second focused heavily on metal, with a couple legends topping the bill. During the afternoon, Mango's hosted a stellar lineup of thrash-metal, and while it took the crowd a couple of hours to wake up after a late night, each band on the lineup was impressive.
Cleveland's Nekrofilth and Dallas's Steel Bearing Hand played great early sets, but the strongest was Houston's own Peasant, who was all kinds of heavy. The big draw of the afternoon was Virginia's Deceased, led by the imitable King Fowley. Celebrating their 30th anniversary as a band, they delivered the most thrilling set of the day, as many members of other bands in the pit excitedly screaming along to every word. Fowley showed why Deceased have had such longevity and a devoted following, with brutal music and his self-deprecating humor.
The band has changed some touring members throughout their run, but at this festival they could not only hold their own with the younger acts, but outshone many of them. Unfortunately, the sets earlier in the day ran late and Deceased didn't start until after half an hour past his set time, which led to them playing at the same time some of the band's at Fitzgerald's were starting. Because of that, the crowd for their set had thinned considerably, and many people missed out on one of the best sets of the weekend.
Saturday night at Fitzgerald's, however, completely delivered. Playing to a sold-out crowd, the combined bill of Napalm Death, Voivod, and Exhumed was a sight to behold. The downstairs stage was also stacked, with Nausea and Terrorizer playing Houston for the first time in years. The best set on the stage came from Houston's PLF, who may have been the most polite band of the festival but also one of the heaviest. Even Exhumed singer Matt Harvey said the crowd at his set should have gone downstairs to watch PLF.
Both Exhumed and Voivod played solid sets of old and new material upstairs, but the highlight of the weekend, the band everyone was waiting for, was London's Napalm Death. Celebrating the release of their great 13th album, the band ripped through classics alongside new singles, and had the crowd going insane. The sold-out crowd filled up the balcony, and also delivered the largest pit of the night.
Many other shows went on late Saturday night and Sunday night, but it was impossible to catch each band, as much as one may want to. Bad Ass Weekend keeps growing each year, and its third was an unqualified success. Hopefully they can top it in 2016.
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