Last Thursday night at DC9, hours before tragedy occurred outside of the club, New York Hardcore legends Agnostic Front performed that sub-genre’s definitive document, their debut album “Victim In Pain”, in full. The show was part of a tour celebrating the album’s 25th anniversary re-issue and by default NYHC’s unique stamp on American Hardcore punk music.
It is an unfortunate coincidence that the tragic event which occurred on 9th street on Thursday night happened after this fantastic concert. There have always been a lot of misconceptions and assumptions about the Hardcore punk scene and I am concerned that the violence on 9th will somehow be connected to this concert.* I can attest that the concert and the crowd attending it were focused on unity and the celebration of Agnostic Front’s music; there was much more singing arm-in-arm camaraderie than fists flying. It was in fact a riotous celebration of how much the Hardcore scene has evolved; far from its brutal roots in the 1980’s to become one of the most positive, all-inclusive, underground music scenes around.
Agnostic Front’s music may have been born out of violent, squatter-punk, survival-ism on the mean streets of 1980’s New York, but the scene they inspired is more about community and collective catharsis than literally taking to the streets with violence. As the dust settles over 9th street to clarify the two very different versions of events presented by the Police and the DC9 ownership, I can only hope that the truth will out and that, whatever the outcome, this nightclub is not affected in the long term by what happened hours after this concert. DC9 is one of the most accepting, welcoming watering holes and concert venues in the U Street area. The diversity of acts and crowds I have seen there in just the past few weeks is evidence of that.**
Agnostic Front have a long history in American Punk Rock. They ratcheted up its intensity and perfected its musical brevity in the mid-80’s with two of the most important recordings the genre has: “United Blood” and “Victim in Pain”. After codifying the NYHC sound with these two albums, AF like many of their peers on both coasts began to incorporate elements of Heavy Metal instrumentation into their sound to counter Metal riffing on Punk in a late-80’s tug-of-war for underground music consumer dollars. A brief break up in the 1990’s ended when AF reunited during the Punk revival. The band has been going strong ever since although they continue to explore a Punk-Thrash sound that does not come close to the vitality of their original recordings.
I have seen Agnostic Front in concert many times over the years. I even opened for them (unofficially) as part of a drunken “In Heaven There Is No Beer” choir at The Capital Ballroom many moons ago.*** I must admit that while I regularly champion “Victim in Pain” as one of the essential entries in American Punk Rock, I have been less impressed with them as a live band over the years, and listen to their later output infrequently. So it was with a little skepticism that I went to Thursday night’s show. In fact I mentioned to a fellow attendee that if not for the show being a “Victim in Pain” album in-full show, I probably would have stayed home. After hearing them perform the album’s opening title track, I was convinced I had made the right choice by going to the show.
Lead-singer Roger Miret mentioned right at the top of the set that it would be an “old school night of New York Hardcore”, a boast which he and the band lived up to. They tore through the entire “Victim in Pain” album in about 20 minutes flat then launched into several old school numbers including (to my delight) several from the “United Blood” EP. It is not an Agnostic Front concert without hearing their calling card tune “Gotta Go” and the boys played a great sing-a-long version of that one. They really only played one new tune; “Peace”, which was introduced by Miret in solidarity with DC for suffering the 9/11 terrorist attacks alongside his hometown.
DC9 was completely packed for this concert. I have not been to a show there since their remodeling that has been so full. The crowd was a great mix of old school punks, young bloods, and the occasional skinhead. It has been sometime since I have been to a proper Hardcore show in DC and I was really pleased with the crowd that came out for this one. DC is the most diverse Punk/Hardcore city in the country and although the scene has gone back underground (compared to the Superbowl of Hardcore/Revivalist heydey) it was awesome to see a big mixing bowl crowd of races and various sub-genre fans.
Everyone, I mean everyone, at this concert knew the words to every song and no one was shy about singing along. Several times through out the hour-long show the fans crowded around Miret on-stage to share the microphone with him. To his credit, Miret also plunged his head right into the wall of moshing fans while he sang, occasionally picking up random fans shouting the words out with him. The crowd was rowdy but not violent. It was all unity-fists in the air rather than angry fists into faces. With such a low-ceiling, I didn’t think crowd surfing or stage dives were possible in DC9, but the enthusiastic kids at this show proved me wrong. This show was an absolute blast. Agnostic Front laid down the law with old school style and the crowd loved every minute-long song of it.
* Case in point – the incident has already been added to Agnostic Front’s Wikipedia page.
** From Delphic’s dance-party to Woven Hand’s spooky Americana, Serena-Maneesh’s noise annihilation to Agnostic Front’s old-school American Hardcore.
*** For which we were politely asked to leave. (Shout-out to my singing partners, Marcus and Josh!)