joshthevegan: (Hank)

Wednesday October 19 was overcast with a light mist in the air as [ profile] veganjill and I headed into the City of Brotherly Love. We spent the afternoon wandering down South Street, patronizing the various quaint little stores, and stopping for a drink here and there at a few of the many bars. We met up with [ profile] jesskathand and her husband for dinner at Blackbird Pizzeria, an all vegan establishment where we had several different types of fantastic pizza topped with Daiya. It was quite a unique atmosphere, having a great dinner while listening to the classic hardcore punk playing, and the experience was particularly memorable since I had the chance to meet Pat Thetic (the drummer for Anti-Flag who happens to be vegan) as he was stopping in for dinner before the show.

After dinner, we headed around the corner to the Theater of the Living Arts. This was only my second time at this mainstay of the Philadelphia music scene, and I had nearly forgotten how great of a venue it is. It doesn't matter where you stand in this place, be it on the huge, open floor, or up in the 21+ balcony area, you have clear sight of the stage. The sound is fantastic no matter where you are, which is one thing that can certainly not be said for The Electric Factory (the 21+ section wraps around in front of one of the huge speakers, making it incredibly uncomfortable at times).

After The Holy Mess started things off in with energetic, barroom-type punk, relative newcomers to the Fat Wreck Chords family Old Man Markley took the stage. I was curious to see how a punk rock audience would take to these folks, since they play an interesting blend of bluegrass with punk mentality. Punk audiences have a reputation for being very narrow-minded, but that stereotype was proven false that night. The fans were incredibly receptive, dancing and slamming to OMM's super fast picking, strumming and stomping. Amidst a set of infectious originals, they played the b-side to their first 7", which is a cover of Screeching Weasel's "Science of Myth".

The next band to take the stage was Pittsburgh's Anti-Flag, a band that is always relevant, but feels particularly so right now with progressive protests popping up all around the nation. As always, Justin Sane, Chris #2 and company worked the crowd into a frenzy with their anthems of unity (and even worked in that cover of The Clash they've been doing for a little while now), but undoubtedly the best moment of their set (if not the whole show) was when Pat Thetic set up his drum set in the crowd and played from there to finish their last song, something he's been doing for this past tour

That made two incredibly tough sets to follow, but NoFX rose to the challenge. One would think that after nearly 30 years of taking this act on the road, the songs and on-stage banter would sound tired and hackneyed, but that was certainly not the case that night. Whether they were playing a relatively new song, a long-standing crowd favorite, or even an obscure track from a seriously out of print 7", they performed with gusto and the crowd ate it all up. These four guys certainly show no signs of slowing down in their older age.

The encore of "Doornails" featuring members of Old Man Markley was a surprisingly poignant touch for a band best known for their irreverence and goofiness. They have another tour already in the works for early 2012 that will feature NoFX and Old Man Markley every night and a rotating cast of punk all-stars to back them up (No Use For A Name, Pulley, Lagwagon, etc.). If you missed them this time around, don't be a fool and catch them on that tour.

When Bad Religion passed through Philadelphia on their 2004 tour, they brought along a band that was only just starting to gain national recognition, Rise Against. Sure, Rise Against had released two albums on independent labels, and bassist Joe Principe had performed for several years in 88 Fingers Louie, but it wasn't until Rise Against signed to Geffen Records and released their major label debut Siren Song of the Counter Culture, that they really started their journey to stardom.

Jump forward to May of 2011. Rise Against has released four albums for Geffen, they have also offered several songs that have gone on to be popular radio singles, and they are now headlining their own sellout tours across the U.S. When they headed out on tour in support of their most recent album, Endgame, they brought along Bad Religion, the very band that helped them start getting their recognition.

The show that I attended was the first of two nights at Philadelphia's Electric Factory, which I consider to be the best of all the music venues in the city. Four Year Strong started the show off with an energetic, metal-tinged set that set the tone for the evening. Their blend of dueling guitars, rattly bass and powerful drums was entertaining, if not the least bit ordinary. They are still a (relatively) young band, and with a starting point like this, Four Year Strong could be a band to watch for in the next few years.

The second of the three sets for the evening was the 30-year punk veterans, Bad Religion. Greg Graffin and company did not seem the least bit out of place playing after a group of 20-somethings. With each passing year, Bad Religion redefines what it means to age in style as a punk band. For a genre that is known for youthful vitriol, it is sometimes shocking that a band of men in their 40's can stay on top of the pack, but with a catalog of music like theirs, there is no questioning that they are.

Bad Religion's set consisted mostly of material from their albums released in the 2000's, only briefly touching on their lenghty backlog of classics. Fortunately, the band has enough great songs from their recent albums to justify this choice. Surely the reason for this decision lied in pleasing the crowd which was largely younger fans there to see Rise Against (of course), who might recognize the more recent BR releases, but not something from, say, Against The Grain.

As 10:00 rolled around, Rise Against exploded onto the stage to roars of ravenous approval from their fans. Lead singer Tim McIlrath raged his left-leaning political diatribes into the microphone while Principe and guitarist Zach Blair bounced all over the stage acrobatically. Their set was every bit as anthemic and empowering as one might expect from a band that uses their music to stand up for the working man, animal rights, and other fantastic causes.

Part way into the set, they took a break from the aggressive rock to deliver what was the most moving portion of the evening: two acoustic numbers. The first ("Swing Life Away"), was performed by McIlrath alone, and then he was joined by Blair to start the second song ("Hero Of War"), which by the end featured all four members. These songs (especially the second one) showcased the fantastic songwriting this band benefits from, and exemplified how a simple ballad can enchant a crowd just as easily as the hardest, fastest songs can.
For the better part of the 1990's, the Lehigh Valley Pennsylvania punk rock scene was alive and thriving. On any given Friday and/or Saturday night, there was a killer pop punk show happening at one of several local venues. As the deceade wore on, many of the venues started shuttering their doors, bands began disbanding, the sense of family at shows was fizzling. . .in other words, our hometown scene mirrored what was going on with punk rock on the national level.

During the time that scene was alive and well, however, there were certain bands you could always count on to put on a fantastic show. Digger, Plow United, Grieving Eucalyptus, Nooner, The Heartdrops, and countless others. The undisputed kings of the scene, however, were Weston and to a lesser extent, Walter Krug.

This past Saturday night, Secret Art Space on Bethlehem's South Side hosted those last two bands in a show that embodied all the positive elements of the Lehigh Valley punk scene back in those golden years.

The venue is a non-descript basement with the only entrance being from a back alley. There are no markings of any kind to let you know where to enter (shows are not technically legally allowed to be held there, so advertising is pretty taboo), but word of mouth advertising (something independent music scenes are quite good at) has gotten the word out enough that people in the know can find it pretty easily. Even though it is nothing more than a basement, the addition of comfy couches and strings of lights hanging from the ceiling transform the space from a cold concrete box to something really special. There isn't technically a stage, only a specified area for the bands to set up. I've always loved this format because the "we're the band, we're up here, you're the fans, you're down there" wall is smashed to pieces.

After two outstanding opening acts, Walter Krug took the stage. Their set consisted largely of material from their final demo tape, their F.O.E. Records single (both of which are available for free download in their entirity here) and the split E.P. they released with The Slap Happies (which was to become their last release while active). Many of the songs were given a slowing-down treatment, succesfully proving that Walter Krug was just as influenced by Pavement and The Pixies as they were The Mr. T Experience or The Queers. The band made sure to point out (several times) that they had only one practice for the show, but in spite of this, they sounded together enough, and the looseness gave their sound the kind of charm expected from a show of this nature.

The Weston lineup that took the stage was basically the Matinee on out lineup (this time with a new drummer). The song selection, however, was strictly early material, drawing mostly from A Real Life Story of Teenage Rebellion ("Just Like Kurt", "Little Mile", "Mr. Lazo", "Two"), with a few songs from Got Beat Up ("New Shirt/Heather Lewis", "Just Like You") and one track from their early E.P.s ("Elephant").

If you are thinking that great music isn't still happening here in eastern Pennsylvania Weston and Walter Krug (and by extension, the Lehigh Valley punk scene)'s ability to be insanely spastic, explosively rocking, incredibly funny and inspire a general sense of unity proved that it is still there, you simply need to know where to go to find it.

When the music hit, I felt no pain at all )

September 2014



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