On The Show Me The Body Tour, The Bodies Hit The Floor

Michael D. Thorn

On The Show Me The Body Tour, The Bodies Hit The Floor

Michael D. Thorn

The kick did not look like an accident. A few songs into Scowl’s set in Richmond on Friday, during the breakdown of I forget which song, the spirit left the body of the guy standing a few feet away from me. Someone in the pit threw a very hard kick at whoever happened to be standing on the pit’s edge. A kick like that is not an uncommon thing. People love to argue online about the ethics of crowdkilling — the practice of throwing haymakers at the people who are adjacent to the pit but not in it. In reality, though, crowdkilling is just a thing that happens. You might not want a stranger to elbow you in the jaw, but you do want to be at a wild-ass show, and an elbow to the jaw might just be the price of admission. Usually, anyone crowdkilling is just aimlessly flailing around. If you get hit, it might hurt, but it won’t end you. This kick, however, was something else.

Look: A lot was happening. People were flying in different directions, and I was looking after myself, so I don’t know if this one guy specifically targeted this other guy. But I did see the one guy kick the other guy in the chest hard enough that his soul visibly entered the Shadow Realm. The guy who’d been kicked didn’t fly backwards. He didn’t even fall down immediately. Instead, his body just kind of trembled for a minute, and then he crumpled to the ground in slow-motion, curling into a fetal ball on the floor. The guy’s friends helped him back up, but he was not OK. For a few minutes, he was leaning against a wall, doubled over, looking like he was about to barf on the floor. Then his friends scooped him up and took him out of the venue. I don’t know what happened to the guy after that. I hope he’s doing better now.

I’ve seen a lot of crowdkilling at a lot of shows. Before Friday night, though, I don’t think I’d ever seen someone get crowdkilled like that. It was less of a moshpit injury, more of an ending to an MMA fight. And this whole thing — the kick and its aftermath — happened during the third act of a five-act bill. Things didn’t really calm down after that. This was a big night.

It was always going to be a big night. Show Me The Body are really only a hardcore band by association, but they’re a true phenomenon, a cult band that gets wild reactions wherever they play. And Show Me The Body put on for hardcore. The last time I saw the New York trio, they rolled through a Richmond DIY space with Candy and Regional Justice Center. A few months ago, around the time their album Trouble The Water came out, Show Me The Body announced a huge two-month North American tour with three of the most vital and exciting bands on the hardcore landscape — Jesus Piece, Scowl, and Zulu — along with the SoundCloud rapper TrippJones. The Richmond show was the second date on that tour, and it sold out all the way out in advance. If the Richmond show was any indication, you should do your best to make it to one of those shows. Just don’t let anyone kick you in the chest too hard.

A cool thing about what they’re calling the World War Tour: The bands all represent vastly different forms of hardcore, but all of them are going for it. In the past few months, there’s been a lot of talk about hardcore and “an uptick in commercial viability,” which is the kind of phrasing that you should only use if you’re trying to get kicked in the chest. Hardcore is a DIY community, not an incubator for the next Turnstile. There will be no next Turnstile; that’s a unique phenomenon. And anyway, there’s only so much commercial viability to be found at a show where you might get kicked onto the astral plane. But it’s cool to see a bunch of different bands exploring the outer edges of their genre, trying to push their own sounds as far as they can possibly go.

Consider Zulu. I have been told that Zulu don’t like being referred to as a Black Power band, though they did invent the genre tag “Black powerviolence,” which is both funny and cool. They’ve also sold shirts that say “abolish white hardcore,” which is also funny and cool. Zulu’s music is heavy and fast and feverish, and it’s also deeply serious. The band’s members are all Black, and they write songs that are confrontationally angry and confrontationally joyous at the same time. They sample old soul records and experiment with rap and jazz, but their hard tracks are hard. Next month, Zulu will release their album A New Tomorrow, and it’s a genuinely important, ambitious record that also stomps a lot of ass.

I wish I could tell you about a revelatory Zulu set, but I took too long finishing a different column, got dinner at a drive-thru, and missed them entirely. (I would’ve also loved to tell you how an opening-act rapper went over at a hardcore show, but I missed TrippJones, too.) The other bands on the tour spoke about Zulu with love and reverence, and my friends who did see them assure me that Zulu were sick. So don’t be like me. If you’re going to the World War Tour, get there early. I can, however, tell you about Scowl.

Scowl, from Santa Cruz, are a band between two worlds right now. They’re a product of the insane Bay Area scene, and they’ve played some instantly-legendary DIY shows: The 2021 Real Bay Shit gathering, the guerrilla show at the New Jersey Sonic Drive-In last year. But Scowl have also toured with Limp Bizkit. They’ve been endorsed by Post Malone. They’re playing a ton of festivals this summer. They’re a basement band that’s transitioning into something much bigger and more professional, without losing the frantic ferocity that made them special in the first place. You could still get your ribcage rattled while Scowl play.

Last week, a couple of days before the Richmond show, Scowl announced their upcoming EP and dropped the new single “Opening Night.” “Opening Night” is a fast, hooky alt-rock rager that reminds me of L7. It fucking rocks. I love it. It’s by far the most polished song that Scowl have ever released, and I think it’s also the best. But Scowl’s live show isn’t polished. In Richmond, the band band played with all the bugged-out intensity that I want from a basement band. Kat Moss made it clear that she wanted everyone to fucking move, and everyone fucking moved. The band’s set couldn’t have been much longer than 15 minutes. Scowl’s version of hardcore is faster and more punk than most, but their breakdowns still hit with sledgehammer force. Scowl have been touring hard lately, and their live show has a chaotic theatricality that I just love. If you feel a sudden need to crowdkill while Scowl are playing, I’m not saying I agree with it, but I understand.

After what happened during Scowl, I wasn’t getting anywhere near the pit during Jesus Piece. Most videos I’ve seen of Jesus Piece sets are just glorious unhinged brutality, and I didn’t want any of that for myself. This was probably the right decision. I didn’t see anyone getting literally dismembered during Jesus Piece, but I did see someone from Zulu running out to sing a guest vocal and then sprinting into the crowd to swing indiscriminately at people’s heads. This is the kind of behavior that Jesus Piece’s music encourages. Jesus Piece’s whole sound is stupendously, disgustingly heavy. They tune their guitars low enough to tunnel into the earth’s crust, and they constantly, violently switch time signatures in such a way that every new tempo-shift makes you feel like you’re turning into a werewolf. If you’re going to get into a Jesus Piece pit, you need to commit. I love that band, but I wasn’t ready to go all the way into their world that night.

Jesus Piece’s style is full beatdown, but they are professionals. Singer Aaron Heard spent the past few years playing bass for Nothing, and drummer Luis Aponte played with Charli XCX on SNL. Jesus Piece play with crisp precision; you can tell they’ve been on the road for years. On the World War Tour, pretty much every band has a lead singer who comes off larger than life, but Aaron Heard is a true sight to behold. Other people came out to help sing during Jesus Piece’s set — I think Heard said something about getting his cardio up — but I’ve never seen too many people who are more in shape than Heard. He’s built like a superhero, and he moves across the stage with the brutal grace of, I don’t know, Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Jesus Piece are finally getting ready to release …So Unknown, the long-awaited follow-up to their beast-ass 2018 full-length debut Only Self. The early singles bring a level of heaviness that sometimes veers into nĂ¼ metal territory, and not in a bad way. They’ve got some of the fidgety intensity of the last couple of Code Orange albums, and I can picture them crossing over into the metal world in the same way. Heavy as they are, though, Jesus Piece have an energy that’s deeply rooted in hardcore, and it’s an inspiring thing to see. The members of the other bands kept coming out onstage during Jesus Piece’s set — sometimes to help out and sometimes just to watch it all happen up close. Jesus Piece command that kind of respect.

In recruiting this lineup of touring bands, Show Me The Body did not make things easy for themselves. But Show Me The Body are their own thing. Within hardcore, SMTB are divisive, and there were definitely some walkouts after Jesus Piece on Friday night. But Show Me The Body’s audience just loves them. The band’s records can be hit-or-miss for me — last year’s Trouble The Water is mostly hit — but their live show is something special. With his shaved head and his hoodie and his little glasses, Julian Cashwan Pratt comes off as a very intense warrior monk. His banjo should come off as an affectation, but he doesn’t carry it that way, and its nattering distorted riffs have an eerie presence that sets them apart. It’s definitely weird to be at a hardcore show and see one guy playing banjo while another conjures decaying keyboard drones, but SMTB always mean it, and people always respond.

People don’t kickbox while Show Me The Body are playing. They don’t whip up circle pits. They do stagedive, which gets easier because the crowd packs up front for the band rather than forming the usual hardcore horseshoe shape by the front of the stage. There’s no set ritual for a Show Me The Body set, so people actually move with the music, and it’s always cool to see a crowd gradually become more unhinged as a song builds. Show Me The Body aren’t my favorite act on the World War Tour, but they deserve credit for putting the whole thing together, for bringing a slate of incredible bands all the way across the country. You should go see them. You should go see all those bands.

Big Boy – “Gone”

Before there was Sunami, there was Big Boy, the San Jose band that also includes lead Sunami bellower Josef Alonso. Just like Sunami, Big Boy are on that reckless violence-party bullshit. Unlike Sunami, Big Boy are a relatively straightforward hardcore band, not a pure vehicle for ignorance. Still, there’s plenty of ignorance in Big Boy’s hard-bounce riffage, and a track like “Gone” practically exists so that elbows can fly in dangerous directions. When that big riff slows down and kicks in, it’s lights out. [From Spring Promo 2023, out now on DAZE.]

Drain – “Evil Finds Light”

People get the wrong idea about Drain, and I understand why. Drain are fun. They put cartoon sharks on their cover art. When they play live, they bring out the beach balls and the boogie boards. Frontman Sammy Ciaramitaro comes off as the most positive man on earth. The video for “Evil Finds Light” is basically a live-action cartoon, with Colin Young transforming from cable-access host to spinkicking caveman when he hears Drain play. But there’s a reason I’m not embedding that video in this column, and the reason is this: Drain will rip your fucking head off. When you hear “Evil Finds Light” without hijinks, you get a clearer picture. The song sounds like thrash played on 1.5 speed, with vocals that land like vomit on hot cement. That breakdown only lasts a second, but it’s long enough to feel like the mouth of hell has opened underneath you and swallowed you up. [From Living Proof, out 5/5 on Epitaph Records.]

Enforced – “Ultra-Violence”

For the past few years, Enforced have been moving into the world of straight-up metal. They record for a metal label. They tour with huge death metal bands. They put squealing divebombs and high-speed shredding all over their records. You could argue that Enforced aren’t a hardcore band anymore, that they’ve fully crossed over into the metal realm. It’s true that song like “Ultra-Violence” probably sounds more like Slayer than, say, the Cro-Mags — even the Cro-Mags when the Cro-Mags were trying to be a metal band. But there’s some ineffable mystical quality that surrounds Enforced, a hardcore energy that has always radiated. For all its big-riff theatrics, “Ultra-Violence” sounds like a warehouse full of people happily attempting to kill each other. [From War Remains, out 4/28 on Century Media Records.]

Exhibition – “Predator”

I don’t know whether the song “Predator” has anything to do with the Predator film franchise. Brett William, leader of the Buffalo band Exhibition, has a guttural bellow that sounds awesome, but I can’t always tell what the fuck he’s saying. But the song title makes me wonder: Do Predators know about hardcore? For centuries, the members of this alien race have been coming to Earth, testing their warrior abilities. These guys might have a good time at hardcore shows. They wouldn’t need to turn invisible, and they wouldn’t need to use their soldier lasers. Nobody would bother setting up swinging-log booby traps, and the bands might not even stop playing the first time that someone gets skinned alive. Prey was great, but now I need a sequel where a Predator moshes to “Predator.” [From The Last Laugh, out 2/17 on Triple B Records.]

Gel – “Attainable”

The first few times you hear a Gel song, you might hear nothing but the roar. Samantha Kaiser sounds like a cave troll who’s just woken up in a terrible mood, and there’s so much cavernous reverb on the New Jersey punks’ headrush attack that it can unmoor you and leave you disoriented. But once you get lost in that barrage, you start to notice all the little details that set this band apart — the absolutely disgusting bass tone, the atmospheric guitar-tingles, the actual syncopation that sometimes creeps into the drums. Gel are special, and they’re special for reasons beyond the crazy live shows or the mystique. They’re special because they write great fucking songs, too. [From Only Constant, out 3/31 on Convulse Records.]

Initiate – “Alone At The Bottom”

Crystal Pak’s voice hits like an adrenaline needle to the heart. Lots of hardcore singers have great screams, but only a few of them give me that instinctive rush, that feeling that makes me want to do a Super Mario power squat jump into the center of the Grand Canyon. With its double-time judder and its triumphant hook-machine riffage, “Along At The Bottom” would sounds anthemic even if it had Alvin and the Chipmunks squeaking over it. With Crystal Pak’s voice, it sounds like a gas-station fireball inside your soul. [From as-yet-unannounced LP, out in spring on Triple B Records.]

Judiciary – “Paradigm Piercer”

Listen. Forget it. It’s over. You know it before the riff even arrives. When it’s just the eerie, spindly classical guitars on the intro, you understand that you are about to die. Judiciary, from Texas, have been a mighty metallic hardcore beast for many years. Now that they’re doing that dynamic fake-out quiet-intro Kirk Hammett shit, they’ve elevated to some new level of heads-through-walls arterial-spray madness. I don’t know why a very brief quiet part should make the loud parts hit that much harder, but that’s what happens here. What a sick fucking song. [From Flesh + Blood, out 3/10 on Closed Casket Activities.]

Pest Control – “The Great Deceiver”

A few years ago, it seemed like old-school crossover thrash was a trend within hardcore. Bands like Power Trip were really into the late-’80s moment when punk and metal fused into fast, mean skate music. The original crossover thrash moment didn’t last long, so why should the revival be any different? But Power Trip turned out to be one of the greatest bands in the world, and tons of other bands took off running with that style. We’re still getting great crossover thrash shit all the time. Cast in point: Pest Control, who formed in Leeds during the pandemic and who absolutely understand how to build fast and brutal riffs into something vast and epic. I played the Pest Control album for the first time while driving through a freezing rainstorm on the way to a Super Bowl party, and it made me feel invincible. [From Don’t Test The Pest, out now on Quality Control HQ.]

Staticlone – “The Mirror”

George Hirsch, the former leader of the great Philly band Blacklisted, started Staticlone in 2021, and the new band seems to be making intentional steps to avoid too much attention. Their three releases are all short — one demo, two flexis — and they aren’t up on any proper streaming services. I don’t even think Staticlone have played any live shows. No social media presence, either. This is clearly a passion project that’s designed to remain a passion project, and I’m halfway inclined to avoid talking about it in this space. But the shit is too good. Hirsch sings about self-loathing, but he’s got so much authority in his roar, and that riff hammers the Misfits’ “London Dungeon” into spiky new shapes and then throws it at you. [From Flexi II, out now on Six Feet Under Records.]

Year Of The Knife – “Victim”

Delaware’s Year Of The Knife look a little different now than they did the last time we saw them. YOTK were already one of the heaviest bands on the hardcore landscape, and now that bassist Madison Watkins has taken over on lead vocals, they’ve somehow become even heavier. “Victim” is a blistering rage-out at a narcissistic whiner, and it’s the kind of song that leaves me terrified that anyone would ever say or think that about me. Even before the breakdown, this song was absolute head-splatter music. When the breakdown hits, that splatter gets messier. [From Dust To Dust EP, out now on Pure Noise Records.]

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