Last night's performance from New York hardcore punk rockers Agnostic Front was anything but forgettable. Hundreds of people crowded into the Yucca Tap Room in the true spirit of punk rock.
To move across the jam-packed floor, you had to pass through a large, rowdy, and intense mosh pit that was nearly impossible to avoid. In fact, even if you tried to simply move through, any kind of motion (which was felt by at least six other people at any given moment) was interpreted as an attempt to join in the fun.
Being the kind of gal that I am, I didn't want to sit this one out. I could not accurately report on the show as a passive observer. No, no. I needed to be an active participant -- for your sake, dear reader. How else was I supposed to be able to describe to you exactly what went on?
What was really remarkable and beautiful -- and is the thing about punk rock that people who really participate in it know, but others often forget -- is that in that psychotic, out-of-control group of people intentionally shoving each other as hard as they could, everyone looked out for one another. A community was present. While getting swept up in all the action, and being less smooth than one may hope, it is possible to fall to the ground amid hundreds of crushing bodies. At one point when I tried to get up and realized I couldn't, my mind raced with possibilities. The headlines from that infamous Who concert of '79, where fans were trampled to death, permeated my thoughts. And just when I was ready to resign to it, believing it was all over, four or six sets of strangers' hands reached down and pulled me upright, patting me on the shoulder before shoving me back into the chaos. And the same was done for every fallen soul.
The night must have been a bouncer's nightmare, and yet, the tiny force of muscular men representing the Yucca not only kept their cool, but they handled the situation with a certain grace under pressure that would leave you in awe. They stood around the perimeter of the masses, recognizing when someone was trying to get out of the grip of the crowd, helping to pull them out. They created a human barrier between those who were ready to risk injury to get close to the stage, and those who were content with a more obstructed view for the sake of not getting bruised up.
And the band loved the crowd, too. The music was fast. There was little gap between the songs, and that bit of space was often occupied with a shout-out or quick aside about the year that the song was written. Having been formed 30 years ago, Agnostic Front had a warranted sense of nostalgia. Singer Roger Miret even got points from the crowd by saying that Phoenix is a cool place to live, having lived here for a number of years himself.
They constantly asked for more feedback, which must have created something like an echo chamber against the old walls of the Yucca, notorious for its less-than-ideal sound system. Needless to say, they were also cranked to 11 the whole night. While I have a pretty high tolerance for loud music, and it takes a lot to make my ears ring, with all the people in there I didn't realize just how extreme the sound was until I walked outside and noticed that I couldn't hear myself. (It was worth it, though.)
While I'm sure most of these fans could have and would have hung around had they played for five hours, the set seemed like it was going to end at least six to eight times before it actually did. I recall Miret saying, "We've got one more song for you," and "This is our last song," a few different times before the show came to a close. One of these instances was right before the song "Crucified," Iron Cross' classic punk anthem about youth being blamed for the world's demise and paying the price for the sins of our parents' generation. It encourages us to push through, saying, We've got to learn to fight to live/Before they grind us under heel.
"Public Assistance" closed out the set, though, and I can't help feeling that it was a decision based on our country's current economic climate. The song complains about those who abuse the welfare system, lamenting the working class who pay taxes while others live off the government. While sung with great conviction, it was a slightly twisted note to end on.
When it all came down to it, though, the sweaty, shirtless, often bruised and sometimes bloody crowd (I did catch one brave fellow bleeding from the forehead) smiled the whole night. As soon as Agnostic Front left the stage, everyone poured outside, only to be cleansed by the rain as they examined their battle scars and discussed what to do next. Classic punk.
Last Night: Agnostic Front at Yucca Tap Room.
Better Than: Any other place where you are forced to rub up against a mass quantity of strangers.
Personal Bias: I love that this show was at the Yucca. There's something about the history of this "ultimate dive" that makes every pore in the walls ooze with history and memories. Perfect spot for this show.
Random Detail: While there were many, many people present, the vast majority of them seemed to be men. I scanned the pit for sign of women, and did find a select three or four, but we seemed few and far between in the thralls of the masses.
Further Listening/Watching: Riot, Riot, Upstart