TVD Live: Salad Days Documentary Party, Night One at the Black Cat, 12/28

Seems I’m taking my life in my hands writing this review of the Salad Days Party at the Black Cat featuring legendary DC bands Black Market Baby, Dag Nasty, and Kingface. Why? Because as legend (or more accurately the Black Market Baby website) would have it, back in the day BMB singer Boyd Farrell went to Yesterday and Today Records to beat up a critic who gave his then band, the Snitch, a bad review. But I’m going to be honest and take my chances. I’m no coward. Besides, I plan to take an extended trip to an unnamed Southeast Asian location immediately upon finishing this review.

The show on December 28th was for a worthy cause: all three bands reunited to play the first of a two-night benefit for Scott Crawford’s documentary film Salad Days: The DC Punk Revolution, which is scheduled for a 2013 release. (The next night’s show featured Scream, Government Issue, and Youth Brigade.) Both sold-out shows offered middle-aged punks who were getting head-booted in the mosh pit during the big bad Reagan years the chance to get head-booted in the mosh pit again, or more likely to stand sedately in the background and watch their sentimental favorites perform live one more time.

Me, I was the ghost at the banquet, having never seen any of these bands. Around the time straightedge began to take hold, rumors began to circulate about kids in DC swatting beers out of people’s hands. While Boston’s SS Decontrol, in DC to prove that imbecilism can travel, was partly responsible, such behavior was also indulged in by DC straightedgers. My friends and I didn’t give a fig who was responsible; all we knew was that nothing was quite so contrary to our every sacred belief as a perfectly good beer gone to waste. It was like kicking Mother Teresa in the groin. So we decided to stick to the City of Brotherly Love, where Mikey Wild (look him up) was the most dangerous punk in town.

But as a result of my embargo on DC, I missed out on a lot of great bands. Such as the punk outfit Black Market Baby. Formed in 1980, they could play it fast and hard–check out their V2-speed cover of “Just Like All the Others (You’re a Motherfucker)”–or slow things down like they do on the excellent “This Year’s Prophet.” And unlike their hardcore brethren, the guys in Black Market Baby were smartasses, not tight asses. Proof lies in the sarcastic “Nobody Wanted Us,” the band’s defiant fuck you to being written off by the straightedgers then appearing on the scene. Ditto “World at War,” which I find superior to Fear’s “Let’s Have a War.”

Unfortunately the band—their line-up at the Black Cat was Boyd Farrell on vocals, Jimmy Swope (replacing Keith Campbell at the last minute) on guitar, Mike Dolfi on bass, and Tommy Carr on drums—only released one album, Senseless Offerings (featuring such great songs as “Downward Christian Soldiers” and “White Boy Funeral”) before calling it a day in 1988. Luckily, though, a compilation, Coulda Woulda Shoulda, came out in 2006. Black Market Baby reformed in 1993 to do the occasional gig and some recording, then broke up again in 1997.

Of the bands on the bill, Dag Nasty alone achieved commercial success. Their 1986 debut, Can I Say–which the band let be known in advance they planned to play in its entirety at the show–was surprisingly tuneful for harDCore. But singer Dave Smalley was still capable of producing the strident vocals known to induce slamdancing in lab rats. I’ve never been a hardcore fan: too monotonous except in a live context, and as my pal Arthur Noll notes, there’s no sex in it. But I’ll make an exception for the frenzied “Justification,” the anthemic “Under Your Influence” (aren’t songs advocating teetotalism so quaint?) and the swaggering “Values Here,” the title of which would make a great slogan for WalMart.

Dag Nasty subsequently said sayonara to hardcore to mine an increasingly melodic vein, and are often credited as precursors of emocore, not something I’m sure you really want on your resumé. Over the years Dag Nasty have reformed several times, and continue on as a side project. For the benefit their line-up was Shawn Brown (their first singer, making his first appearance with Dag Nasty in 27 years), Brian Baker on guitar, Roger Marbury on bass, and Colin Sears on drums.

Kingface, like Black Market Baby, never achieved widespread success, releasing just two discs during their existence. (Fortunately, a Kingface compilation was released in 1995.) The band—Mark Sullivan on vocals, Patrick Bobst on guitar, Andy Rapoport on bass, and Larry Colbert on drums—made quite the splash when they appeared in 1985, playing a more melodic style of punk combined with hard rock. Screw hardcore’s lack of guitar pyrotechnics; Bobst opted to channel his inner Eddie Van Halen, as is evident on “Words Taste Good” and “My Favorite Movie Is Life.” Similarly, Sullivan’s vocals are closer to, say, Anthony Kiedis’ than to your average DC shouter, although he could growl and scream with the best of them.

During their run Kingface released some fine songs, such as the bluesy “Crawl Into Tomorrow” (with harmonica!), “Read My Back,” and “I Don’t Want to be Anything,” which reads less like an expression of hardcore nihilism than a nugget of Zen philosophy. Kingface packed it in in 1989, although they’ve reunited to play the occasional gig and release a song or two.

The night of the show the line to get in extended well down the block, and talk about timing: I made it to the lip of the stage just as opener Kingface’s singer Mark Sullivan announced, “We are the mighty Kingface from Washington, DC!” Gone were the dreadlocks, but Sullivan’s pipes were strong as ever as the band whipped into “Heart Drags Body Around.” It was a roadrunner of a number I’d never heard before, as was its follow-up, “Wrapped in Air.”

Subsequent songs “Tired” and “Lick the Moon” demonstrated that Kingface hadn’t lost any of their chops; bassist Rapoport in particular had his bass turned up high, and he played it with a daunting virtuosity. Bobst delivered a short but wicked guitar solo on “Lick the Moon” before launching into “Dirty Wings” with an evil riff, then dished out a freakout solo at song’s end. I enjoyed the big battering assault that was “Crawl Into Tomorrow,” with Bobst providing sonic boom guitar; “Lullaby,” where Rapoport once again flaunted his bass skills with a quick solo and the song’s tempo slowed down into a heavy metal passage; and the blisteringly fast “I Don’t Want to be Anything.” “My Only Sin” was metallic, almost Zeppish, with Bobst providing a cool guitar solo; “One Truth,” with its bass intro, was a study in tempo shifts, going from slow molten metal to speedcore, which Sullivan punctuated with a great scream.

My personal highlights were “Read My Back,” with its absurdist chorus (“I’ve got a tattoo on my back/But don’t know what it says/Any questions/Read my back”), and “Words Taste Good,” with its barbaric guitar riff and excellent bass and guitar solos. What made “Words” truly surreal, however, was that halfway through the song a petite black guy in a bizarre outfit of green sweat pants and white suit jacket suddenly appeared on the stage, looked around as if he didn’t know where he was, then glanced at the audience in mock shock before running off stage again. It was HR of Bad Brains.

I was still congratulating myself on reaching stage front when Dag Nasty picked up their instruments. When they played the opening chords of “Can I Say”–they preceded it, sans singer, with a short but sweet “Mango”–a riot broke out. A mosh pit formed spontaneously behind me, kids took to launching themselves from the stage, and I was being pushed and shoved, making it impossible for me to take notes. In fact, not only did I sweat through my clothes during the brief set, I sweated through my notebook too, I was clutching it that hard. The kids happily shouted along with Shawn Brown; they knew every word to every song, an amazing feat given how mundane the words are.

Brown–a large and friendly black guy who got into a discussion with an audience member about the fattening properties of ladyfingers–often thrust his microphone into the crowd, to give them their chance to shout along. Meanwhile I was getting crushed against the stage, kicked in the face by a stage diver, booted in the head by a crowd surfer, and just trying my best to remain upright. To do so I had to cling tenaciously to a handy monitor, the way Leonardo DiCaprio clung to that piece of driftwood in the Atlantic at the end of Titanic. But the kids were good natured and having a great time, and it really was like the mid-eighties again; it brought back nostalgic memories of being knocked up, down, and around at a Husker Du/Minutemen show in a derelict Philly warehouse, back when I had zero sense.

However, the nostalgia ended abruptly when the band played encore “Never Go Back” and the crowd frenzy trebled, making me wish I was at a show a little more sedate, say Sade. And I thought, “Never go back. That seems like a good idea. I’m too old for this shit.” Maybe you can’t go back, but no doubt about it–Dag Nasty stole the show that night.

Talk about your tough acts to follow. But closers Black Market Baby did their best, despite the ringer on ax. Then again, they had help–HR returned to the stage mid-set to perform Bad Brains’ “Right Brigade,” and set the crowd to moshing again. Fortunately I’d retreated to mid-hall because I couldn’t hear Boyd Farrell’s vocals up front, and thus avoided a potential concussion. Black Market Baby performed all my faves; “World at War,” with its blasting power chords was fantastic, as was the homicidally menacing “Killing Time,” with its belligerent guitar riff and Farrell’s barked lyrics. “Downward Christian Soldiers” set the audience to moshing and singing along to the chorus, after which Farrell touchingly dedicated the shouted “White Boy Funeral” to Edd Jacobs, a 9:30 regular and friend of mine who passed away recently.

The set opener was the ought-to-be-a-classic “Youth Crime,” which was fast and loud; the band followed it up with their salute to teenage anomie, “America’s Youth,” which included a killer solo by Swope. “Just Like All the Others (You’re a Motherfucker)” was even faster than it is on record; Swope’s guitar roared, and Farrell pounded his foot down so hard in time I worried he might bring the whole stage down. “Back Seat Sally,” an homage to a female of easy virtue (“Sally’s good in bed/But she’s better in a van”) was a real crowd pleaser, as was the band’s cover of The Shirkers’ “Drunk and Disorderly,” which set the audience to chanting along to the chorus. “Potential Suicide” was depression set to some manic guitar chords, while “3 Bullets”–a song about a presidential assassination–was all pounding drums and an appropriately lethal guitar riff.

My night’s favorite was “Nobody Wanted Us.” Farrell invited former Black Market Baby bassist Paul Cleary onto stage to sing along to such lyrics as “We are the assholes in Black Market Baby/We’ll piss in your beer/Then we’ll fuck your old lady,” real words of deep social import that finally washed out the taste of Dag Nasty’s vague lyrical bromides.

The band then closed their set and the show with their cover of the Pirates’ “All In It Together,” a mid-tempo plea for solidarity that featured a big singalong chorus. The vocals may have been a bit raggedy, but the sentiment was sincere; we are indeed all in it together, the straightedgers and the hard partiers, the old who stood in the back and the young who tossed themselves willy-nilly from the stage.

“Scene solidarity” may be as much of an illusion now as it was during Revolution Summer, but some things have improved. Nobody’s knocking beers out of anybody’s hands anymore, and I call that small but real progress in the department of basic human consideration.

Live photos: Erica Bruce

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