The Cro-Mags, Die Young, Black Coffee, BLUNT, H.R.A. Walters Downtown July 10, 2014
When the Cro-Mags arose from the streets of New York City in the mid-'80s, punk and heavy metal were hardly the best of friends. If there's one thing that singer John Joseph and company have proved over their tumultuous career wrecking stages together, though, it's that the tight bonds of friendship aren't necessarily a prerequisite to do some groundbreaking damage.
After more makeups, breakups and lineup changes than anyone cares to count at this point, the 'Mags have reemerged as proud hardcore elder statesmen in the 21st century, recognized far and wide for their thrashing, crossover sound's indelible influence on both sides of the once-deep punk/metal divide.
On a rare stop in Houston on Thursday night, the band drew a crowd ready to show out for the scene legends who wielded such a heavy hand in crafting the modern underground's sound and aesthetic.
Hatetank Productions put together a stacked bill of local support, and there wasn't a single band at Walters last night that hadn't been touched by Cro-Mags' seamless fusion of punk-rock energy with metallic heaviness. The show was opened by H.R.A. (Heavy Roach Activity), a nasty little hardcore troupe of increasing local renown, who stomped the earliest arrivals flat with speedy precision before the sun had even set.
"This one goes out to you, the ones who made it out this early," said singer Robert Mena, dedicating one typically mean-spirited number. "The roaches haven't even made it out yet!"
H.R.A. enjoyed a nice response from the slowly swelling crowd, as did the next group up, Pasadena's BLUNT, who sounded ready to be counted among the area's heaviest hardcore elite as drummer Gerardo pounded his kit through the floor. As is typical at these gigs, fans were happy to clap and cheer, but rather reluctant to get down and dirty early on, clustering around the dance floor's margins. One far-too-enthusiastic 'core kid was tossed after attempting to berate the early birds into action.
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Take note, friends: You cannot antagonize people into moshing with you. Sit back, relax, and allow the alcohol to do its work.
Like clockwork, the manic energy in the room continued to build for Black Coffee, whose jangling guitar tone and thudding pummel unabashedly recalled of mid-period Black Flag. After their short, snappy set, scene veterans Die Young took the stage next, clearly jazzed to be sharing a gig with one of their biggest influences.
The band was joined on drums by past member Mike Fury, filling in for current skinsman Wendel as he engineers a move from Mexico City to the U.S. Fury didn't skip a beat all night, but may have been downing a tad too much water up there, as he straight-up puked in the middle of one song late in the set.
Our heart went out to the man, who was certainly working hard up there, but it was pretty fucking funny, too. The floor-punching seemed to ratchet up a notch for impossibly tight tunes like "The Trail of Tears" after that little incident -- vomit'll do that, it seems.
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As the Cro-Mags began setting up at last, the crowd seemed to instantaneously double in size. Clearly, this was a performance many in the local scene had been looking forward to. As the formerly wide-open spaces in the club disappeared, nervous excitement ramped up considerably as it became obvious that there'd be nowhere to go to escape the slam-dancing.
In fact, supercharged fans didn't even wait for the 'Mags to hit their first note to begin the stage-diving, leaping into the crowd as the band plugged in. In a flash, Walters was engulfed in pure mayhem, with divers pinwheeling into the first few rows one after another. Sweaty, young dudes with punk-rock bona fides to prove reenacted a million old black-and-white photos as their NYHC heroes blasted the crowd with crushing speed.
Clearly used to operating under difficult-to-manage stage conditions, the Cro-Mags proved to be total pros at dodging the madness. When his microphone cable was kicked into oblivion almost immediately, John Joseph simply conducted the chaos until Walters' trooper of a soundman fixed it.
Guitarist A.J. Novello and bassist Craig Setari maintained near-constant eye contact through street-level classics like "Signs of the Times" and "Street Justice," keeping the ferocious music tight and focused amid the anarchy.
If any other group has created so much sweaty havoc inside the new Walters, I haven't seen in -- and I've seen quite a few. Dancers strutted across the floor and the stage with equal abandon, smiling and shoving in roughly the same measure. One stage-diving pileup appeared to send an entire row of people to the beer-soaked floor. I imagine there are more than few sore backs and knees being medicated with booze and ibuprofen this morning.
Joseph, now 51 years young, had no trouble keeping pace with the younger freaks in the crowd. Looking at least a decade fresher than his age, the front man provided a fine testament to his longtime veganism-and-exercise lifestyle. As the band encored with the metallic crush of favorites "We Gotta Know" and "Hard Times," it seemed as if moshing might've been the only exercise many of his young hardcore disciples get.
On Thursday, though, that was more than enough. In the show's sweat-slicked aftermath, Walters reeked of a gnarlier funk than four or five Crossfit gyms. Over a long on-again, off-again career, the Cro-Mags have shown a couple of generations now that dangerous living can make you pretty tough to kill. If nothing else, the sound they spawned certainly seems destined for some kind of immortality.
Personal Bias: Happily hangin' in the "safe" zones.
The Crowd: Absolutely nuts.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Mosh, you faggots!" (Charming.)
Random Notebook Dump: Hard to take notes during this one. Lots and lots of happy pushing and shoving.
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