Check out a slideshow of Calabrese's performance.
Photos and review by Benjamin Leatherman
Better than: Finding a razor blade in your mini-Snickers.
Over the past 30 days or so, most of the Western world has been busying itself in celebration of the annual phantasmagorical feast of fear known as Halloween. As for me, however, I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting into the Halloween spirit.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan of the holiday, always have been. As a kid, I used to spend most of the year trying to think of what gear I was gonna wear to impress my friends and win the annual costume contest at school. But with all the weirdness that’s been going on lately with the Phoenix New Times and our recent legal drama with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it’s been kinda hard getting into the spirit of things (no pun intended).
So when All Hallows Eve came around, I was bound and determined to make up for my spooky funk. I dressed in nothing but black clothes, listened to the Misfits’ Evil Live all day long, and after the sun went down, I was gonna check out the closest thing to the ‘Fits that Phoenix has to offer, the horror punk band Calabrese.
The boys and ghouls gather 'round for Calabrese.
I’ve been a fan of the band for the past year or so, but had never gotten a chance to see them live in concert. I’d heard some stories about how raucous their shows could be from other fans, but these tales were nothing compared to the insanity I witnessed at their annual Halloween show at the PHiX in downtown Phoenix. Although it seems like every day is Halloween for the three brothers who make up Calabrese (since they dig on blasting out merciless horror punk about ghouls, goblins, and other ghastly topics), I get the feeling that their Halloween gigs are the biggest shows of the year for them.
When I arrived, the crowd at the Grand Avenue art gallery and performance venue was at least a hundred strong, consisting of numerous punks, freakazoids, and rockabilly fans. While a good third of them were sporting the standard ‘billy uniform of pompadours and Misfits tee shirts, the rest of the crowd was dressed for the holiday, with a ton of “duplicate” costumes (such as two Freddy Krueger’s, two V for Vendetta’s, a pair of sexy Snow Whites, and two Edward Scissorhands). Frankly, the most original getup of the night was the guy who came as “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski.
The opening psychobilly bands -- Chapter 23, Creepsville 666, and Zombeast -- definitely fired up the crowd and got them in the mood for madness (including a smoking cover of Guns 'N Roses' “Sweet Child of Mine” by Creepsville 666). Illusionist Ray Valenz also contributed to the freakshow atmosphere of the night by performing such stunts as inserting tic tacs through his eye and making them come out his mouth, heating up a bullet with a cigarette lighter to set it off and “catch” it in his teeth, and attempting to saw his head off with a guitar string.
Later, Valenz also provided a rather menacing introduction for Calabrese before they took the stage. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Valenz said into the house mic. “The virgins have been sacrificed, the vampires have feasted, and now its time for you to play witness to the most awesome horror punk band of all time, Calabrese.”
As the band took to the stage (which was lit with eerie green lights and covered with mist from a fog machine) an ookie portion of the soundtrack to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion played, the brothers took up their respective instruments, and proceeded to unleash Hell. With their mouths covered in (presumably) fake blood, they ripped into a terrifying troika of songs consisting of “Vampires Don’t Exist,” “Death Eternal,” and “Night of the Living Dead,” where their unforgiving sound of thundering bass lines, chainsaw-like guitar, and horrific lyrics pumped up the audience and fueled the miscreants in the mosh pit.
Lead guitarist Jimmy Calabrese and bassist Bobby Calabrese share duties with the vocals, taking turns bellowing into their retro ‘50s-style microphones about zombies and burning flesh. Meanwhile, drummer Davey (who resembles Luke Perry to some degree) pounded the skins as hard as an alcoholic on a three-day bender pounds the Jack Daniels. The band members wear their musical and style influences on their sleeve, as they got the whole gothabilly/horror punk look working for them, with a sound that’s a frenetic pastiche of the Misfits, Samhain, White Zombie, Danzig, AFI, and other bands of their ilk.
During a break in the action, the brothers also gave a shout out to their mom and dad, who were running their expansive merchandise table. Say what you will about the band, but Calabrese definitely knows how to do merch, as they were selling a dozen different tee shirts, six posters, CDs, 8x10 photos, buttons, and stickers.
Also in between songs, the Calabrese members threw out handfuls of candy to the audience as it gathered around the PHiX’s tiny stage. The treats probably helped add to the fans’ energy and sugar buzz, as they were moshing up a storm and jumping on the stage to sing along with the band. The only shitty part about the crowd were a pair of skinny tough guys with foot-high Mohawks who kept trying to prove how punk rock they were by running into the pit while and swinging punches at the same time. Thankfully, venue owner Lee Berger got them to stop.
As rowdy as things were as Calabrese ran through more than a dozen of their best songs during the hour-long set (including “Children in Heat,” “Night in the Lonesome October,” and “Eyes Down”), things became completely unhinged when the brothers started jamming out a stellar cover of the Misfits’ “Halloween.” To say the audience went absolutely fucking batshit would be an understatement. They rushed the stage, and piled on top of one another to crowd around Bobby and Jimmy on the microphones and screamed the lyrics along with them. Outstanding.
All in all, a screaming good time.
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By the time the show ended just after midnight, the fans seemed collectively spent from all their thrashing, and before Calabrese let loose with their final song, “House of Mysterious Secrets,” they gave props to those in attendance by saying, “Thank you guys for sticking around; you fucking rock.”
No, thank you.
Personal bias: If I didn’t have to shave my head due to male pattern baldness, I’d totally be sporting a pompadour, too.
Random fact: After the show was over, many Calabrese fans headed north on Grand Avenue to check out the party at The Trunk Space, where Andrew Jackson Jihad, Malaki, and Dangerville performed.