Will to Live, Band of Mercy, Black Coffee, Altered Minds Walters January 26, 2013
Anytime I find myself at a real, honest-to-God hardcore show, it's hard not to compare it to the anarchic, adrenaline-soaked matinees at New York's legendary CBGB. Long after the likes of the Ramones and Television made their name at the club, it was kept alive by the weekly influx of mostly underage kids eager to stage dive along with Agnostic Front, Madball, and Murphy's Law.
Those weekend matinees were an East Coast institution that most Houston hardcore nuts grew up hearing about, but never got to experience -- a fact that my fiancée, who saw more of those shows than she can count in her teens and twenties, will probably never let me forget.
That's why the idea of Saturday's hardcore matinee at Walters appealed to me so much, I think. CBs is long gone now, and Walters is about the closest thing we've got to the old dump down here, despite its immaculate bathrooms. All the better that the show was headlined by Will to Live, some of Houston's longest-running hardcore warriors.
Might we get a taste of all those matinees that we missed? I couldn't resist finding out.
The small crowd of true believers that showed up couldn't hope to match the sweaty intensity of Sunday at CBs, but then an institution isn't built in a day. There was an easy-goin', Saturday-afternoon vibe in the audience: The grass was mowed, the weather was beautiful outside and all that seemed missing was a smoking barbecue grill out the side door.
The early birds clustered around the stage to hear the first band up, Altered Minds, whose aggressively heavy grooves provided a walloping open to the afternoon's festivities. As they would throughout most of the day, the assembled scenesters listened attentively and applauded respectfully. To the relief of at least one of us, the slam dancing was kept to a minimum for much of the day.
It was hard not to blink a few times when sunlight streamed into the windowless club while Black Coffee set up. I hadn't seen the band since last year's Free Press Summer Fest, and I was looking forward to their set. The quartet delivered a string of short songs long on attitude, including furious covers of Minor Threat and Iron Cross sprinkled in amongst the tunes from their recent 7-inch. Good stuff.
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It was a bittersweet gig for the next group up, Band of Mercy. Saturday was lead guitarist/front man (and Will to Live axe-slinger) Daniel Albaugh's last show before a move to Philadelphia. As such, it was his last opportunity for the foreseeable future to get the band's confrontational vegan message out to those who would listen, and Albaugh made sure he was heard.
"We're all meat- and dairy-free up here," he said. "That's why we rock so hard! If you're not kind to animals, you will just be smashed."
Band of Mercy packed the metallic punch to back up those words. They played heavy, stomping hardcore, highlighted by Albaugh's capable soloing. Their uptempo set-closer, "Eat to Win," had me hoping he'll be back again soon, even if I'm far from ready to swear off James Coney Island.
It was no surprise that the dance floor was left wide open as Will to Live took the stage next. The pit can get hairy when they play. The slammers on Saturday were few but enthusiastic, throwing wild kicks and windmills in every direction as the band pummeled out its familiar brand of metal-tinged hardcore. The group's bellicose riffs kept heads banging hard as longtime fans shouted their lyrics back at them.
Will to Live took the time to salute Walters owner Pam Robinson, recalling a time when proper venues willing to host hardcore were tough to come by in this town, to say nothing of afternoon gigs. They also made sure to wish Albaugh well on his journey, though they seemed to fully expect to see him again.
"We got a place to stay in Philly now," said singer Rob to Live. "Wish him luck while he's up there, and hope he comes back soon."
The band closed out the day with the punishing "Trust for the Few," a good thematic fit for the relatively tight-knit bunch of die-hards who turned out. Is there enough interest out there in this sort of thing to make matinee gigs at Walters a regular occurrence? That remains to be seen. As a first taste, though, Saturday was more than enough to spark the imagination.
Personal Bias: My first time seeing Will to Live in over a decade. Where does the time go.
The Crowd: True believers.
Overheard In the Crowd: Some guy singing along to Dio's "Eat Your Heart Out" between bands.
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Random Notebook Dump: Walters' corner of downtown feels a lot more alive in the daylight.