Show review: The Catalyst, Flowers In the Attic, Hexmachine
So, last night: The Catalyst, Flowers In the Attic, and Hexmachine, in Eric's basement.
I'd been hanging out for hours already, as we had band practice earlier that afternoon (my band now has two entirely finished songs. I am stoked). At first I was a bit worried that people weren't going to show up, but sure enough, as is the case in Richmond with house shows (and really, with all shows), everyone was just late. The show was supposed to start at 7, but it didn't start until around 8:30, by which time a respectable amount of people had arrived.
The Catalyst played first, and though I've seen them several times before, this was my first time seeing them in Richmond while they were a Richmond band (I've seen them in DC since they all moved to Richmond, and I saw them in Richmond twice back when they still lived in DC. Heh). This was the best I'd seen them play, ever. They started with "Panic Don't Panic", which is one of the songs on which Jamie, who just joined a few months ago, plays second drums. A lot of the kids who were in the basement when they started playing had never seen them before and were a bit surprised at the double drum-kit action, but I guess they liked it, because no one headed for the exits or anything. Jamie switched to guitar after that song, and they proceeded to run through four songs without stopping. This was probably the best I'd ever seen them play, even in spite of the fact that Eric's pedal setup shorted out in the middle of one of their songs, forcing him to skip singing an entire verse while he banged on the connections repeatedly, trying to get sound going again. I've written about The Catalyst's sound here before, but to recap, they are a pretty interesting mix of the more rock-n-roll based hardcore of the past decade or so (think At the Drive-In or early Rye Coalition) with full-on Nirvana-style grunge/alt-rock. That might sound lame, and it could be lame if done differently, but the way they do it combines the best features of both styles into a unique and powerful sound. Their new songs that have been written since Jamie joined the band are incorporating more of a metal influence, but it is doing nothing to take away from what they're already very much succeeding in creating. Last night's set was pretty much the best I'd ever seen them play, and they definitely won the crowd over.
Baltimore's Flowers In the Attic played next, doing the last show of a six-week tour. They didn't seem tired or lackluster at all, though, and knocked all present on their asses. Not just because they were loud, either (though they definitely were: the cops came during their set, a first for shows in Eric's basement. For the record, they didn't make us stop the show, and they didn't come back for the rest of the night). Flowers In the Attic play a dark, metallic version of hardcore with awesome female vocals that fortunately don't fall prey to the "woman ranting" cliche of female punk vocals (see Crass, Nausea, etc.). Instead, vocalist Rebecca screamed her head off in a manner that reminded me of Michelle from Scrotum Grinder, only backed with a slower, heavier style of music that ultimately took a lot of cues from later Amebix material, as filtered through more modern bands like His Hero Is Gone, Tragedy, and One Eyed God Prophecy. They started their set with some shorter, relatively uptempo material, and steadily moved towards longer and slower songs as the set went on. They pulled the crowd along with them, too--by the time they finished the last song on their setlist, the whole place was chanting "HO-LEE SHIT!" which, when everyone figured out they were done, evolved into chants of "ONE MORE SONG!" and then into "WEED JAM!" Their guitarist picked up the mic from where the singer had dropped it and said, "We have a weed jam, and we'll play it, but you guys have to move up. Stand right in front of us." So we moved up until the band barely had room to move, and they played "Extinct", the closing track from their new CD, which is 8 minutes long and heavy as fuck. It was positively brilliant.
Hexmachine had a hard act to follow after that, and opinions were varied as to whether they'd succeeded. I personally wasn't too impressed with them the first time I saw them, and though I thought they were a little better this time, it still wasn't anything amazing. I think a lot of the reason people care so much about them is because their drummer is Dave Witte, formerly of Burnt By the Sun, Discordance Axis, Human Remains, Black Army Jacket, etc. etc., and currently a member of local thrash kings Municipal Waste. Hexmachine doesn't sound like any of those bands, though--they most closely resemble the midwest-based noise rock scene of the early 90s, bands like The Jesus Lizard, The Cows, Unsane, Vertigo, the early Butthole Surfers, and maybe The Melvins or early Nirvana, among others. Anything that came out on Amphetamine Reptile around that time, really. This would be awesome if they were updating the sound for more modern times or coming up with a fresh new take on it, but they do neither and instead just churn out slow, dirgy grooves that take forever to get where they're going and mostly just bore. Some of their riffs are extremely catchy, but they're catchy in an annoying manner, where you wish you could get anything else stuck in your head, but for a couple of hours it's pretty much impossible. I watched them play for a few songs, but the music wasn't good enough (as it had been during the other two bands) to keep me from noticing how hot and stagnant the air in the basement was, and I ended up leaving about halfway through their set. I wasn't the first to do so, nor was I the last. My friend Tyler credited his "punk rock ADD" with driving him away, and I know what he means: I have a friend who mostly goes to see bands like Primus and Radiohead, and he will complain about a band "only" playing for 90 minutes, while to me that seems interminably long. Another friend of mine mentioned that Hexmachine guitarist/vocalist Trevor comes off like a jerk because of the way he talks inbetween songs. This made me laugh, because I used to know Trevor when he was doing the band Human Thurma in Richmond back in the late 90s, and I know firsthand from trying to book shows with him that he IS a jerk. All of that said, some of my friends were really into them, so maybe it's my prejudice against Trevor that's keeping me from really getting into Hexmachine. Then again, I feel like their songs being too long and not having enough going on is at least part of the problem, if not the lion's share of it.