Okay, so crust punks have a gnarly reputation. They’re often generalized as snotty, elitist, and way too proud of their abysmal personal hygiene. An especially menacing aura surrounds the type of individuals who, in theory, get stoked about a Leftover Crack show, especially one at an independent venue like ONCE Ballroom. Some feared this all-ages inclusive and direly at-capacity shindig would end with the Somerville joint reduced to a festering heap of urine-soaked ashes.
But this morning, the room still stands. Saturday night’s dirty punk-o-rama provided plenty enough chaos for a crust punk to revel in, if such was their wont. But the audience hardly lived up to the aforementioned vicious stereotype.
Consider this: The vocal mics all cut out a few bars into “Bedbugs & Beyond,” leaving Scott “Stza” Sturgeon stuck looking frustrated and/or shouting into a useless metal stick for what was probably only about 12 minutes — yet felt, as awkward moments tend to, a lot longer. But the crowd’s collective demeanor said, “Hey, it’s chill, sound problems happen now and again, nothing to freak out about, certainly no reason to make Leftover Crack feel uncomfortable.” Instead of turning sour, the kids continued merrily jostling around as if nothing had gone wrong at all.
Out on the Highland Avenue sidewalk — where a gaggle smokers and stragglers haggled for unspoken-for tickets, some passing the time playing guitar or petting a presumed squatter’s friendly puppy named Chessie — somebody tried to buy the sweater off my back. From my vantage point, that was as dangerous as the night got. I witnessed exactly zero attempts to challenge or undermine the authority of ONCE security. Unlike previous performances by Leftover Crack or their affiliates, nobody set off any firecrackers indoors. Nobody threw any donuts at any cops (not that the opportunity ever presented itself; no visible cops were present). Nobody smoked any cigarettes dipped in formaldehyde and got tossed out for playing with strangers’ mohawks without asking permission.
Where did these gentle souls come from, and what happened to the ticking timebombs who used to come see this band? Judging from Saturday, this current generation of crackheads have a, shall we say, more constructive temperament than the NYC punk staple’s audiences of yore.
Meanwhile and fortuitously, Leftover Crack themselves remain curmudgeons. Technical difficulties plagued their initial handful of songs. Then, to the entire building’s palpable jubilation, the vocal mics kicked back in halfway through “One Dead Cop.” What followed sounded more-or-less copasetic. Occasionally sing-shouting in monotone or staring down at his keyboard, Stza didn’t always look psyched to be where he was. But his persona — cultivated over years fronting Leftover Crack, Choking Victim, and Star Fucking Hipsters — hinges on general malcontentedness, and Stza’s audience has grown accustomed to a degree of onstage grumpiness.
Brad Logan sang “Stop The Insanity” and should definitely get a job as a mall Santa and/or do another F-Minus album whenever he has time. Stza promised the show would end and the band would immediately rush to wherever they were sleeping by 11 p.m., no matter what. He lied. A rigorous post-11 p.m. encore included “Crack Rock Steady” and “Gang Control” with the dudes from All Torn Up (and Days N’ Daze, too? The stage got crowded and I got confused) jumping in to help with the words.
Speaking of Days N’ Daze, they’re my new favorite band, and not just for demonstrating the refined and sophisticated pop cultural acumen necessary to drop a Metalocalypse reference early into their set. Indeed, the “three kids with grandpa’s guitars” as co-singer/string instrument player Jesse Sendejas described his ensemble, shifted the tone from the preceding sessions supplied by sonically heavier, scarier dudes. Luckily, this isn’t 2005, and we weren’t at a dilapidated warehouse in Providence. Thus, co-singer/trumpeter Whitney Flynn deployed “Blue Jays,” an uncharacteristically tender tune that could be mistaken for a Laura Stevenson jam, without driving the Leftover Crack devotees into a blind frenzy of toxic masculinity. Of course, the scruffy Houston trio (down a member from their usual foursome) prompted ample frenzy, albeit not of any toxic varieties.
Pat Gill, formerly of The Murder and Machine Gun Etiquette and one of the few Bostonians deft enough to snag a ticket for this thing, theorized that All Torn Up’s vocalist Joey Steel holds down a soul-annihilating day job — something drab yet intensely stressful — and unleashes his perpetually pent-up fury at gatherings such as this. That could be true, or it could be bullshit, but an Office Space-esque lifestyle would account for the NYC hardcore outfit’s caustic wit.
“Has anybody here heard of Leftover Crack?” Steel wanted to know.
“No!” responded the crowd.
Before All Torn Up, the stalwart hometown punk institution Disaster Strikes rallied the early birds. As he always has, J.R. spelled out the agenda behind his lyrics between each-and-every song. I used to consider this practice distracting, or “preachy,” but then I found out Paul Ryan loaded his iPod playlist up with Rage Against the Machine tracks until Tom Morello personally told him to please stop and also lick a bag of infected assholes. Now and again, a self-described longtime Dead Kennedys fan expresses shock, even outrage, to discover Jello Biafra leans somewhat to the left of mainstream American political sensibility.
Perhaps J.R. merely seeks to alienate listeners who might hear Disaster Strikes’ unrelenting aural fury and think, “Grrrr, I can’t understand these lyrics and I never read anything so I won’t look them up to find out what this guy’s saying but this music makes me feel good about doing angry shit I wanna do like beat my wife and vote for Trump.” So perhaps J.R.’s speechifying isn’t “preachy” so much as prudent.