GBH, The Business, Total Chaos
May 31, 2015
More than 100 years of combined punk history occupied the yuppie-seized White Oak area Sunday night and for four heavenly hours held it hostage, only before having to relinquish control back to the people they continue to rail against.
Total Chaos, The Business, and GBH traveled back in time and acquiesced into the present to a packed house at Fitzgerald’s. On the 35th anniversary of GBH’s seminal hardcore debut album, Leather, Bristles, Studs, and Acne, the band performed this venerable classic from beginning to end with the same note-for-note precision like it was 1981. Within the punk culture not much has changed: anarcho-punk Mohawk hairstyles, denim sleeveless jackets with iron-on patches of favorite bands, leather and studs, tight jeans, obscure punk-rock band T-shirts, Doc Martens, and at least one shirtless drummer. Likewise, the music has become sacred. Punk as a religion. And this evening’s high priests were three of the genre’s greatest front men: Monsignor Rob Chaos, Oi Chaplain Micky Fitz, and Cardinal Colin Abrahall.
Total Chaos began the introductory rites with political liturgy from the edge of Fitzgerald’s stage. During the fevered set that saw a small but spirited pit, Rob Chaos reminded the faithful the band had performed 20 years ago at Fitzgerald’s, displaying an old Fitz circular that featured them. The California band have now gladly adopted one of Houston’s own as their current guitarist, Shawn Smash.
More relevant than their sound was their politics. Rob Chaos reminded the crowd of the tumultuous times we live in, and the police were not spared. A song from their new 7-inch, “Police Rat,” sprayed vitriolic lyrics concerning police abuse like a temperamental Uzi. Each song launched a pit that featured a bloodied skinhead wearing his wounds like a trophy. Young women knocked down young men. At the end of the set, Chaos placed the mike into the mouths of the band’s honored fans to chant the final song. A young punk in tribal fashion jumped onto the stage as the song came to a close and screamed the song's final lyrics into an open mike. Before anyone had a moment to breathe, Total Chaos’ set came to a close.
Micky Fitz is Oi’s most lovable and charismatic front man. He recognizes the power within the audience more so than many front men regardless of genre. Like a sarcastic drunk storytelling uncle you love to see at family reunions, he ensures a good time will be had by all. But despite his warm pretense, he hasn’t forgotten The Business’ motives and why they still exist as a band. Since 1979, they've taken stands against political abuses and virulent racism. Not one to shy away from England’s recent shift to the right, and with the specter of the country’s state-funded health care program in the balance, The Business' staying power matches the turmoil the band’s members faced during the Thatcher '80s.
With “Out in the Cold” today, The Business reminded the masses Sunday night that the faces may have changed, but the story is exactly the same. Despite Micky Fitz’s warmth toward the audience, he stepped on the throat of the establishment, failing to relent at any one moment in favor of levity. The Business brought the Ois in full force during “National Insurance Blacklist,” a song that exposed the hypocrisy of England’s proclamation to take of its poor. The crowd fell under Fitz’s spell, as he rallied the boisterous and volatile audience to take what is rightly theirs. Rowdy, raucous, and gritty, he showered the crowd with love and remarked on the most important aspect his band was grateful for: its fans.
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Before traveling back in time to celebrate GBH’s groundbreaking Leather, Bristles, Studs, and Acne, the band launched into Perfume and Piss’s hard-charging track, “Unique.” The crowd swelled, contracted, and swelled again, becoming overwhelmed by the band’s revolutionary energy and heart-stopping rhythms. Unlike the evening’s two previous acts, GBH refrained from inter-song banter. All killer, no filler, what they demanded from the audience, which returned the feeling sevenfold. Following “Unique,” GBH retold in full Leather, Bristles, Studs, and Acne’s stories of nihilism and alienation. The thudding intro of “Race Against Time" sounded faster and more lacerating than its original. “Knife Edge” formed pits of fury. “Lycanthropy’s” drum and bass intro felt like large hands slowly squeezing the throat of a smaller victim.
“This means war!” as “Generals” deceptive intro came to a close. If the crowd could have thrown furniture, bottles and rusted car parts, they would have. Thankfully, no such objects existed inside of Fitzgerald’s premises. A brief yet shredding, guitar solo once again reminded the faithful of the incredible musicianship GBH possesses. But in addition to the band’s stiff political demeanor, GBH’s ode to plus-sized women, “Big Women,” featured the band’s often misunderstood sense of humor. Not all piss and vinegar, they, too, undermine the all-too serious punk stereotype that punks never smile.
The rat has been an enormous motif in punk music. Humans throughout history have been equated with being less than human, and even more so, the lowest, most vile form of vermin — rats. Other than the elderly, the most helpless life form, an infant, is often a taken for granted element in a materialism-obsessed society. It was none more fitting for GBH to end the evening “City Baby Attacked by Rats” and “City Baby’s Revenge.” The margins of helplessness have been punk rock’s central theme. GBH, along with their two openers, reminded their fans Sunday night that they cannot lose sight of helping those who need the most help.