You Should Really Go See Drain

Daniel Simmons

You Should Really Go See Drain

Daniel Simmons

A couple of songs into Drain’s headlining set, the dicks came out. These dicks were balloons — plastic, a few feet long, with little dangling ballsacks. I don’t even know whether they were stage props. Someone in the crowd could’ve just shown up with a few inflatable dicks. But the dicks fit the evening’s vibe perfectly, so I can only assume that the dicks were Drain’s. For the entire evening, the dicks bounced around in the audience, sometimes caroming off the ceiling fans, rarely hitting the floor. These dicks were nothing like the giant hydraulic penis that the Beastie Boys used when they were touring behind Licensed To Ill in 1987, but I have to imagine that they served the same purpose — to signal, in the dumbest and silliest way possible, that it was time to party.

It’s always partytime when Drain are around. The Santa Cruz band has made that clear for years. Drain’s sound is an energized California bounce with plenty of thrash-metal crunch and precious little melody. Singer Sammy Ciaramitaro’s voice is a phlegmy screech, and the band’s riffs always land hard. But there’s nothing intimidating about Drain. The band comes out of the same Bay Area scene as cult-hero warriors Sunami and Gulch, and Ciaramitaro was Gulch’s drummer, but Drain have never gone for the mystique of either of those bands. Instead, they make a goofy spectacle of themselves. Past Drain sets have famously involved pool noodles and stagedivers on boogie boards. Now, they’ve got dick balloons. It’s a natural progression.

Right now, Drain play a crucial role in the hardcore zeitgeist. They are the community’s great evangelists, the cheerleaders who take their circus on the road and welcome in any interested parties. Drain’s version of hardcore is joyous physical release, and they’ve made it their mission to get as many people moshing and jumping around as possible. Last year, Drain launched a massively ambitious headlining tour with bands like Drug Church, Magnitude, Gel, and MSPAINT jumping on at different points. That tour looked fun as hell, and I kicked myself for missing it. (Thanks to shit-for-brains planning, I left Austin the day before Drain rolled into town. It was so stupid. Never let me book a flight.) This year, Drain are leading another tour around the country, and if anything, it’s even bigger than the last one.

This year’s Drain trek is called the Good Good Tour. No lies detected; the tour is indeed both good and good. The Good Good Tour poster is one of those nightmarish band-logo pileups where you can never tell which bands are playing which cities, but you can be assured that lots of bands are playing every city. Richmond got six bands, and that was on a weeknight. The weekend “Beach Party” shows are even bigger — full on mini-fests with at least seven bands apiece. At different points in the tour, you could see Angel Du$t, Madball, H2O, Twitching Tongues. One of the Chicago shows has Mindforce and God’s Hate. That’s crazy.

On the Axe To Grind podcast last year, Drug Church’s Patrick Kindlon talked about how Drain left a lot of money on the table by refusing to play venues that required barriers. They’re too big for that now. They’ve reached the paradoxical hardcore point where they got too big to play hardcore shows, at least in the way that those shows are supposed to go. But Richmond is not most cities. On Wednesday night, Richmond got the third show on the tour but the first with no barricade, which meant a whole lot of stagediving, with the vocal encouragement of every last band on the bill. That night’s lineup was an absolutely bulletproof roster of heavy hitters: Terror, Scowl, End It, Frozen Soul, Haywire. I was in that building for something like six hours. It was exhausting, but it never stopped being fun.

The Richmond show took place in the massive upstairs room of the Canal Club, the former home of the sadly defunct United Blood fest. Virtually every band that played said something about United Blood, with the unspoken subtext that this Drain tour was basically our consolation prize. (Mutually Assured Destruction frontman Ace Stallings promoted the Drain show, and he was one of the people behind United Blood at the end.) The venue looks a lot like someone put floor-to-floor purple carpeting inside a barn. It’s a weird room, but it’s the kind of weird room where the staff doesn’t get stressed out when hordes of kids are losing their collective shit, so it’s the right kind of weird room for a show like this.

Boston’s Haywire, the first band of the evening, started out by telling everyone to come to the front because they’re a punk band, not a mosh band. If that’s true, then I really don’t know what “mosh band” means. Haywire play straight-ahead fastball hardcore with a little bit of street-punk bounce. They’re brand new, just put out their demo earlier this year, but most of them are scene veterans, and they know what they’re doing. As soon as they got going, so did the crowd, and the crowd didn’t stop all night. There are these wooden pillars near the stage, and one guy did this amazing move where he leapt off the stage, went fully horizontal, and then kicked away from the column in mid-air, balletically changing his trajectory. It was some Jet Li shit, some Rey Mysterio shit. He did it for the first time during Haywire, and then he kept doing it for the whole show, maybe dozens of times. I don’t blame him. If I suddenly discovered a superpower, I’d want to keep doing that thing again and again.

Daniel Simmons

Dallas death metal monsters Frozen Soul aren’t on the Drain tour, but they had a night off from their own tour with Obituary and Cannibal Corpse, so they jumped on the Richmond bill. Singer Chad Green, who has deep roots in hardcore, made a point of telling the crowd that the Drain show was the most fun they’d had in forever. Frozen Soul aren’t exactly a crossover band. They look and sound full-on death metal, and it’s always a blast to see at least four people headbanging in unison onstage. But they’re also mosh enthusiasts with nasty breakdowns, and Green kept barking out high-energy dance instructions. Apparently, he does that at death metal shows, too. On this night, Frozen Soul had an audience that really responded, and you could tell that they loved it.

Frozen Soul might’ve been the odd band out on this bill, but they were fully down for the mayhem. Later on, Green joined Terror onstage to bellow out the Corpsegrinder part from “Can’t Help But Hate.” He was in his element. I had no idea how Frozen Soul would go over. They’re popular enough that they headlined the Canal Club’s smaller-but-still-big downstairs room last year, and there were probably some people at the Drain show just to see them, but it never got weird. Drain’s version of hardcore is about as big-tent as it gets, and Frozen Soul were down for the party. Also, Frozen Soul have a record called Encased In Ice, and they were selling “Encased In Ass” booty shorts at the merch table. That’s just good wordplay.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see Baltimore warriors End It a bunch of times, since they’re always coming through Richmond. For a while now, they’ve been playing shows on nothing but two EPs and a demo, and I’ve probably seen them play the exact same setlist a few times. It doesn’t matter. It’s always great. Those songs all hit, and people get progressively more nuts every time they play. End It are one of the only bands on the entire Drain tour, so a lot of people are about to see them do what they do. Their sound works beautifully in 10-minute bursts, but I can’t wait to hear what they’ll be able to do when they finally drop an album. (An album has to be coming soon, right?)

End It leader Akil Godsey, one of the most magnetic personalities in hardcore, has a great gimmick where he’ll come onstage singing a different song a cappella every night. On Wednesday, we got “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” an exquisite choice. That chorus into the “New Wage Slavery” riff? Come on. Unfortunately, Godsey’s mic was turned low enough that I couldn’t hear most of what he said between songs. That’s a crime. There aren’t too many singers I want to hear between songs, but he’s one of them. Sound people of the world, please make sure his mic is loud.

Make sure Kat Moss’ mic is loud, too. If you look around enough, you will find lots of people getting very snippy about Scowl on the internet. I don’t think that’s just because they’re a popular hardcore band led by a young woman or because they had a song in a Taco Bell commercial or whatever. I think it’s because Scowl are writing catchier, more accessible songs all the time, so people get this mental narrative about how they’re just tourists using hardcore as a stepping stone. The problem with that whole angle is this: Scowl love this shit. In fact, every band on the Drain tour loves this shit. Nobody hides it. They’re all supremely stoked to be playing these gigantic, anarchic shows. I don’t blame them.

Scowl did something very smart with their set. Conventional wisdom dictates that a band should save most of its catchiest, most anthemic songs for the end of its set. Scowl did the opposite. They started off with “Opening Night,” one of my favorite rock songs of the past few years, and they did all their big-hook jams early. Throughout their set, they got progressively more angry and feral, building up to ragers like “Retail Hell.” That gave their set an arc, and it allowed the crowd to get progressively more crazy. Scowl get sharper and meaner every time I see them, and they understand the logic of a hardcore show. It’s the kind of thing that you pick up when you really love this shit.

Nobody loves this shit more than Terror. Terror have been a band for more than 20 years, and they’ve remained hugely relevant to hardcore for that entire time. They’re still making huge, cranked-up ragers. Their songs tend to fit into the category of down-the-middle hardcore singalongs, with some records leaning faster and others drifting in a more metallic direction, but they’ve always been the same band. They tour tirelessly, and they’re humble enough to play support to young, ascendant bands like Knocked Loose or Drain. On Wednesday, they were an absolute fucking machine. They put everything into that set.

Daniel Simmons

Terror played classics. They played new songs that sounded like classics. They got the full-room singalongs that their classics demand. They brought out local luminaries, like Down To Nothing’s David Wood, who absolutely crushed their parts. Near the end of Terror’s set, Scott Vogel said that they’re “not a rock band” and that he’s not a cool guy. It wasn’t their show; it was ours. That was his way to get people jumping up onstage and grabbing the mic — not that anyone needed encouragement — but it’s an interesting way of framing what Terror do. Their songs are fantastic, especially in a big room where people can’t wait to sing along or to run around in circles, and the band holds a certain symbolic importance.

Vogel can’t be that much older than me. He wasn’t the oldest person in the room; I saw a guy in the circle pit who looked like Kris Kristofferson. But in a room like this, Vogel has a grandfatherly gravitas that runs deep in the genre’s history. He’s still clearly and visibly excited to lead these rituals, and his evangelical fervor is aspirational. It’s a sign of the meaning and direction that you can get from hardcore — or, for that matter, from almost anything — if you fully devote yourself. Terror don’t half-step anything, and their intention inspires. Hearing them end their set with “Keepers Of The Faith” is the kind of thing that can make you feel alive.

As a pure band, Drain have a ways to go if they’re going to catch up with Terror. As spectacle, though, absolutely nobody is touching Drain. The show on Wednesday was Drain’s first time playing Richmond. They brought it, and so did the city. If Sammy Ciaramitaro wasn’t singing for a hardcore band, he might be the world’s greatest gym teacher. Drain records are catchy and energetic as all hell, but when they’re playing live, those songs mostly serve as vectors for Ciaramitaro to urge the crowd to get wilder and wilder. As a hardcore singer, he’s good. As a ringleader, he’s practically peerless.

Onstage, Ciaramitaro is a total energy ball. He runs back and forth, he bounces, and he barks out constant instructions. He’s not just demanding circle pits or side-to-side action. He’s telling everyone in the room to lock arms and run over to the bar so that the people on that side of the room don’t get left out. He’s getting everyone to squat down and jump up at the same time. He’s yelling: “Hands up! Hands up! 8 Mile! 8 Mile!” He’s speaking to people who might be at their first hardcore show, telling them all about how much fun the culture is and how all these very different bands fit together. He’s looking for people who know the words to the songs and then hucking the mic into the crowd underhand, like he’s shooting a free throw in 1955.

At the end of the night, Ciaramitaro was determined to take full advantage of a stage with no barrier, so he got as many people in the crowd as possible to run up onstage during “California Cursed,” to the point where you could see any of the band members amidst all the flailing limbs. People were moshing onstage. People were crowdsurfing onstage. One of the major tenets of hardcore, not just as a style of music but also as a culture and a philosophy, is that there’s no division between performer and audience. In the closing moments of that Drain show, that idea became real life, and it was beautiful.

Anklebiter – “Paradise”

What am I supposed to tell you here? What context do you need? It doesn’t matter where Anklebiter come from, and it doesn’t matter what made-up subgenre I might throw on a song like this. I could write some shit like “this sounds like a grizzly bear fighting a dolphin,” but what would that add? Sometimes, you just need to hear the thing for yourself. A song like “Paradise” is pure instinct. If you feel it in your DNA, then you feel it in your DNA. If you don’t, I can’t help you. [From Anklebiter/Prevention split, out now on Sunday Drive Records/Delayed Gratification Records.]

Direct Threat – “Forever Fighting”

How do you make music like this when you come from Denver? That’s not me taking a shot at Denver. I’ve never been there. I don’t know what it’s like. Tons of great punk and hardcore bands come from Denver, but most of them don’t sound like this. This feels like the kind of music that you can only make if you’re living in a desiccated and violent Clockwork Orange hellscape, or maybe if Margaret Thatcher has specifically victimized you and your family. You go outside and look at a mountain, and then you go back inside and make this? I am very happy that it happened. I just feel like I need to know how it’s possible. [From Endless Siege EP, out 5/31 on Iron Lung Records.]

Extinguish – “One Less Enemy”

Ever heard a drum sound at actually offends you? Because this drum sound is disgusting. The snares sound like they’re spreading human feces all over my walls. The toms emptied a bag of month-old coffee grounds on my kitchen floor. The cymbal taps are telling me horrifying things about my entire family tree. I should gather up a mob of villagers with torches and pitchforks and chase these drum sounds into another county, except that might mean starting a fight with the guitar tone, and I don’t want to do that. [From One Less Enemy, out now on DAZE.]

Gel – “Mirage”

You know a Gel song the second that you hear it. Ever since they got going, the Jersey hardcore freaks have been making thrashy, guttural basement music, and they’ve ascended to the level where they can play racetrack metal festivals without diluting their abrasive attack or even bothering to write hooks or riffs. You go to Gel for the totality of the experience, and it’s fucking awesome. But now that Gel are slowing down and adding dynamics and syncopation and shit, they are suddenly very scary on a completely different level. “Mirage” doesn’t sound like a hit, but it does sound like a new step for a band that’s already come a long way. Without losing any of their aggression, they’re becoming a new beast. I have no idea where they go from here. Could be anywhere. [From Persona EP, out 8/16 on Blue Grape Music.]

Halo Bite – “Love Lighter”

Most hardcore songs are about making war on the outside world — on disloyal friends, on cops, on anyone who looks at you wrong, on whoever. But there’s a whole lot of power in the hardcore songs that are about making war on yourself, and this is one of those. It might also be about making war on the ex who you can’t stop calling, but that’s basically the same thing. Albany’s Halo Bite have bounce in their venom and catharsis in their disgust, and that makes this song hit even harder. The discordant-ass guitar riff helps, too. [From Winner’s Circle EP, self-released, out 6/7.]

Missing Link – “Numbers On The Board” (Feat. Gridiron)

Gridiron are a true modern miracle. These guys are doing simplistic Beastie Boys-ass rapping over chunka-chunka riffage, which should be the clumsiest and dumbest music in existence, and they make it work — not because it’s not clumsy and dumb but because they’ve got enough energy and confidence to make it awesome. Now, they’ve bringing that over to other bands, and it still works? That seems impossible. Scientists should study it. Choose your words wisely or you will D-I-E. [From Watch Me Bleed, out 6/7 on Triple B Records.]

Mutually Assured Destruction – “Hexer”

Richmond isn’t even that far south, and Ace Stallings lives in the Bay Area most of the time anyway, but there is something so fundamentally Southern about this song. It’s swampy and greasy and sweaty, and it feels like it could only be played by someone with chicken grease on their fingers. MAD have been bringing groove-metal strut to hardcore since they started, and they’ve turned it into absolutely primal triumphant shit. I feel like I could hogtie an alligator to this. [From Hexer EP, out now on Creator-Destructor Records.]

Princess – “Wishes For An Untimely Demise” (Feat. Street Power’s Chris Cesarini)

I am 44 years old. I have two children. I own a home, or at least I own some percentage of a home that is otherwise owned by a bank. I am a functioning adult. But I hear this song, and suddenly I’m 13 years old, screaming at my dad to get out of my room. That shouldn’t feel good! Why does that feel good? [From Wishes For An Untimely Demise EP, self-released, out now.]

Speed – “Real Life Love”

Speed are probably the most photogenic hardcore band to come along since Turnstile. That’s not a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just the truth. They look fucking awesome, and the camera loves them. They’ve been using that to their advantage since day one, filming music videos that look positively cinematic, even on a DIY budget. “Real Life Love” has a weirdly beautiful and tender video. The song, like so many hardcore bangers, is all about fake friends, but the video turns it into a koan to deep, life-sustaining bonds. And for maybe the first time, Speed sound cinematic now, too, from the “Sledgehammer”-ass flute intro to the towering guitar harmonics. They’re still making swaggering ass-beater music, but now they’re also pushing upward toward some kind of transcendence. They have no ceilings. [From Only One Mode, out 7/12 on Flatspot Records/Last Ride Records.]

Yambag – “Party Song”

It’s one thing to write a 41-second avalanche of scrambling cat-scratch guitars and freaked-out sneer-screeches. It’s another thing entirely to write a 41-second avalanche of scrambling cat-scratch guitars and freaked-out sneer-screeches and call it “Party Song.” I would love to get a peek into the brain that even thinks to pull a stunt like that, and then I would love to get the fuck out of there immediately afterwards. [From Mindfuck Ultra, out now on 11PM Records/Convulse Records.]

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