Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sweet Zombie Jesus, that was horrible

Back when I was doing college radio, there was always a race going on to see who could find the most extreme music, in any number of dimensions: the best, the 'rockingest', the most obscure, the loudest, the most literary, the most atonal, the coolest, the noisiest. Whatever the dimension, there was always an endless series of one-upmanship going on: "You call that 'X'??? Here, listen to THIS, I'll show you 'X'. " (Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music" was of course the trump card in any number of these discussions.)

Even after I left college radio behind, I still kept up: every week I would listen to the BBC's John Peel to find out what was new. (Of course, now Peelie has left us, and I'm now officially clueless. But I did play the game for a very long time. And I still miss Peelie.)

Around 1987, John Peel's World Service show brought us Napalm Death, and the entire genre they spawned of "grindcore".

Loud, fast, difficult to listen to. Which meant it was perfect, for what it was. St. Anselm's Ontological Argument for the Existence of Grindcore: "Postulate the existence of a genre louder and faster than which no other music can be conceived. Such a genre must exist, and must be worshipped."

And after listening to 1987-vintage Napalm Death, it was hard to imagine how rock could get harder, louder, or faster. So for the last 20 years, Napalm Death has been my specimen example for the genus of "hard rock".

And twenty years later, Napalm Death finally played here. An all-new lineup, but, still, here they are. My long-suffering wife refused to go with me. My teenaged daughter adamently refused to accompany me. So I went all on my lonesome.

Northern Lights is just a club in a strip mall. (What's hilarious is that next door to Northern Lights is the Northway Church, the local advertise-on-television Mega-church: Saturday night, there's one set of worshippers, and Sunday morning a different set of worshippers fills the same parking lot. Because, ya know, we each worship in our own way.) I'd guess the crowd was about 300? Mostly young men, of course, but a very visible contingent of women. The dress code ran almost entirely to 'black'. I counted four mohawk hair-dos. And I was probably the only un-tattooed person in the place.

(It's probably a topic for a different post to discuss how charming it is that audiences self-select. I didn't know that there WERE 300 grindcore fans in the area - and yet, here they were, all conveniently assembled in one place.)

So I saw a couple of the warmup acts ('Straightline Stitch' and '36 Crazyfists', from Alaska), and the headliners ('Devil Driver'). Napalm Death was not quite as loud as Sonic Youth - still my reference standard for "LOUD" (and come to think of it, I don't know if my hearing has recovered from that, even yet....) - but it was not for lack of trying. I kept touching my earplugs to make sure that they were seated - and touching them would break the seal, and let me know that, yes, they had been seated - the noise was, yes, simply loud enough that I thought my earplugs must have failed.

During the stage patter, Barney Greenway, Napalm Death's current singer, talked about the band now being 27 years old, and referenced 1987's "Scum" - which I was holding in my hand, as I had brought it along in hope of an autograph. (I was chatting with one guy who pointed out that the album was older than HE was.) My moment of fame.


In your mind
Nothing but fear
You can't face life
Or believe death's near
A vision of life
On television screens
An existance created
From empty dreams
Hide behind T.V.
Hide behind life
You should be living
But you only survive
Life holds nothing
But pain and death
Don't look for love
There is none left

What's remarkable is how conservative the genre is: Napalm Death played stuff off their new album, AND material from 1987's premiere "Scum" - and it did NOT sound like there was 20-some years of progress between the two. And the headliners clearly owe their style to ND, but have not moved the goalposts very far past their progenitors.

Hearing "Scum" played live made me smile. They play Binghamton tonight, but I still can't talk my family* into going with me.

*Amended to add:

Well, the 11-year-old is game - she's always up for about any adventure, and agrees that Napalm Death is funny - but I don't think the club would let her in.


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