Maybe it was the dank weather that drove them out of their burrows, or the deep bass vibrations that attracted them. But the extreme rock underground slithered up through the cracks and into the daylight on Saturday, turning out early and with enthusiasm to Day 2 of the Bad Ass Weekend III festival. In studs and spikes they came, rocking mullets, mohawks and long, frizzy tresses, to catch the kind of cult bands that you can really build a scene (or a fashion statement) around.
The sold-out crowd hustled up and down the stairs at Fitzgerald's all night, trying to see and hear everything. It was impossible. The deep lineup of thrash, death and grindcore thought-leaders on both stages was staggered nicely, but difficult choices had to be made. That's just the way it goes at the biggest, gnarliest extreme-rock show of the season.
By the time old-school Orange County grind outfit Phobia began bashing away upstairs at 7:30 p.m., the Bad Ass Weekend had already been underway for quite some time. D.C. punk originals Government Issue had headlined a practically unmissable punk portion of the fest the night before, and lesser-known acts like Church of Disgust and Peasant had been rocking a capacity crowd at Mango's since early Saturday afternoon.
But as the day wore on and more and more freaks continued to stream into Fitz from off the street, it began to feel as if the fest were hitting its peak.
Fans were crazy from the get-go on Saturday, but the moshing really kicked into high gear for Iron Reagan upstairs. As the band dedicated the tune "In Greed We Trust" to all the tax evaders in the room, the circle pit blew up big, threatening to suck in half the room. Beer flew everywhere as the stage divers warmed up, their boots pinwheeling into fellow thrashers' beverages and faces.
While Iron Reagan boasts its fair share of notable names, comprising members of Municipal Waste, Darkest Hour and Cannabis Corpse, they nonetheless added a couple more ringers to their lineup to celebrate the final night of their tour. Exhumed singer Matt Harvey appeared first to take on a Cannibal Corpse cover, and then none other than Napalm Death front man Mark "Barney" Greenway came out, his arm in a cast and sling, to belt out some SSD. The crowd went off hard for both, with a crowd surfer knocking over half the group's drums at one point in his struggle to survive. Iron Reagan was having too much fun to care much.
Downstairs, Fitz was crammed uncomfortably full for a set by L.A. grindcore outfit Nausea, who were making their first-ever trip to Texas. Showing no mercy, they ripped into the manic crowd with jagged riffs and pummeling drum fills. The sheer number of weirdoes losing their shit to the crushing grind made it altogether clear that this show had drawn in grind-lovers from all over the state, if not beyond. The likes of such underground heroes as Nausea don't make it down to the Bayou very often, if at all. For those living the grindcore lifestyle full-time, the mandate to assemble the entire tribe was too strong to ignore.
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Exhumed were next upstairs, busting out ripping old-school death metal jams like 1995's "Torso," and then it was back down into the crusty thrash maelstrom whipped up by local lads P.L.F. Everywhere you went -- from stage to stage and to the bathroom, bar and beyond -- was crawling with people covered in black. Some joker let off stink bombs as the crowd swelled down there, simply adding to the extreme overload of stimuli as the crowd continued to swell. It was only February, but it was starting to feel a bit like the metal show of the year.
Like many, I chose to skip out on the proggy thrashing of Canadian titans Voivod up top in order to stick around downstairs for grindcore gods Terrorizer LA. The L.A. legends of brutality absolutely packed the place to the gills with their ultra-rare appearance, and the mayhem they inspired was simply bonkers. The crowd exploded upon their first, stricken note, sending fans' locks and lager flying through the air with speed. [Note: this paragraph has edited after publication to clarify which Terrorizer performed Saturday.]
As wave after wave of crowd surfers jumped into the teeth of their maniacal kin, it seemed only a disastrous matter of time until somebody kicked the whole lighting rig right out of the ceiling, but tragedy was somehow averted. Nevertheless, downstairs at Fitz was not a terribly safe place to be as the clock continued to tick toward midnight, with a relentless and seasoned mosh pit churning without cease.
It takes a fairly incredible band to follow the fury of Terrorizer LA without feeling wimpy, but Birmingham, England's Napalm Death bows to no fiend in the global extreme-music community. Despite Barney's broken arm, even despite the absence of longtime guitarist Mitch Harris, Napalm Death still destroyed Fitz with a practiced ease. Eager to show off deathly new atrocities such as "Smash a Single Digit" but still keen to deploy grind classics such as "Scum," Napalm rolled over the audience like a Russian T-34, mashing fans into pulp beneath their treads.
The pits for "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" and "Suffer the Children" were not for part-timers, with more than a couple of people eating stiff forearms and crashing to the floor. Crowd-surfers fell to what appeared to be gruesome fatality after fatality up front as the happy chaos spun wildly out of control. For true fans of this stuff, the moment was sublime.
By the time they capped off the evening with "Adversarial/Copulating Snakes," the crowd looked rather beaten-down and bedraggled, a testament to the long day's worth of brutality. Plenty of folks headed off to the aftershow, but many more simply slunk back to the dark crevices of the rock scene from whence they came, licking their wounds and already excitedly remembering their favorite moments from one of the city's weirdest and coolest gatherings.
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