British hardcore punk rockers GBH name stands for "grievous bodily harm". While attendance at any punk show poses some threat of injury, what with mosh pits, angry teens, spiked belts, and extreme mohawks, the risk at last night's GBH show was a little higher.
Locals Casket Life and Glass Heroes opened the show, but when New Yorkers Outernational
took the stage, things got heated. The band walked on with confidence, and their frontman was entirely clad in leather from the neck down. Half way through the second song he pulled off the jacket to reveal a sweat soaked T-shirt. (It was the kind of ballsy move a local would have never made, wearing a leather jacket in June to begin with.)
A few songs in and this same lead singer, named Miles Solay, introduced their next song by saying, "I wasn't gonna come to South Afri --, I wasn't gonna come to Arizona this evening. I wasn't gonna come to Germany -- I wasn't gonna come to Arizona this evening." In one fell swoop he likened our post-passage of SB 1070 state to apartheid and the Nazi regime. In comparison to what was about to come, this was a subtle remark. The crowd didn't say much, and was hard to tell if it was because they were simply ignoring it, they actually agreed, or they didn't pick up on the reference.
The chorus of the song featured the lyrics, "Blood on the streets," and was followed up by a more blunt declaration. "We usually like to let our songs speak for themselves, but.. We support the boycott of Arizona, but we decided to come here anyway," said Solay. "You should be standing with your Arizona brothers, because this used to be Mexico anyway." After this and a few more references to the new legislation as "Nazi shit," the crowd stayed silent no more.
They began flipping off the band, screaming things like, "Fuck you!" and "You're a fuckin' hypocrite," and the second the band finished playing their song, the crowd began chanting, "G-B-H," essentially booing them off the stage.
I've been to a lot of shows, both as a music lover, and as a music critic. Never have I seen something like this go down. When Outernational began talking about our asinine law, and how they were inclined to boycott but instead decided to come with their socially conscious, human-rights-concerned music, I was thrilled. This is what I love most about punk. It represents those on the fringes of society, and recognizes the importance of political awareness and activism coupled with an understanding that those who are marginalized are bound together. It is everyone's struggle. I've said before that it is this that made punk a powerful movement, beyond just angsty teens. It gives youth an outlet to direct their anger and justified frustrations with the world, while highlighting the importance in standing up for your beliefs and becoming part of a larger struggle and movement.
The near riot that resulted (a physical fight almost did break out) was one of the most shocking displays that I've ever seen. I realize that no one can speak for the actions of others, but it was honestly the most ashamed I've ever been to be an Arizonan. The passing of this legislation, which is legalized and institutionalized racism, was bad enough. But this wasn't stuffy politicians talking. These were punk rock kids. These are young people, that in so many other ways are outspokenly liberal. Where does this leave the "middle ground"?
The more I learn about SB 1070, and the more I watch how others react to it and listen to what they have to say, I realize that while there should be tons of middle ground, there is none. Conversations with Outernational band members indicated that they also felt like the issue was polarizing. What was also interesting, is that Solay pointed out that while many were enjoying the show, once a handful of people got angry at the band's political statements, everyone else remained silent.
Outernational just recorded Woody Guthrie's "Deportees" with Tom Morello, and performed at the May 29 Anti-SB 1070 rally in Phoenix. Solay also said that after the show a handful of people, (myself included,) went up to him or members of his band to apologize and share their sympathetic sentiments. He said though that what is important is that these people stand up when it counts, noting out that his strong statements, like, "The people that just booed, their favorite band[s are] really Ted Nugent and Lynyrd Skynyrd," and pointing at one particular person saying, "When they lynched Black people, this guy was cheering along," were not merely to appear as tough or manly, rather they came from a place of strong conviction. They've played the song and made the remarks in other cities, noting that the crowd in Dallas didn't take to it well, but those from Austin and San Antonio approved much more.
Though some of the Clubhouse security guards thought the booing had more to do with the bands sound and "New York arrogance" than their politics, (they leaned a little closer to ska than a lot of hardcore punk fans might prefer,) it's hard to believe in this climate that this was indeed the case.
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GBH performed next, and while they ripped through a killer set, it's hard for anything to stand out as much as what had happened before. They called out the crowd for being "bastards" to Outernational, though people didn't seem bothered enough by their remarks to kick up much of a fuss.
Last Night: GBH, Outernational, Glass Heroes, and Casket Life at The Clubhouse
Better Than: Bands that boycott Arizona instead of making a point to come here and talk about important issues.
Random Detail: After the show was over I took a trip backstage and overheard band conversations on the trouble with discontinued hair spray, how one can wear the same underwear four days in a row on tour by reversing it and turning it inside out, and England's upcoming match against Algeria in the World Cup.