February 11, 2015 Anti-Flag tear up NYC 2-5-15
Once upon a time, Punk Rock was more than just a musical genre; it was a movement. United in anger, musicians and fans railed against the world’s injustices and challenged the status quo at every turn. Punk artists wrote the protest songs for a generation of young adults who refused to be quieted with weed or sanguine lyrics about peace and love. They were aggressive, they were confrontational, and they were pissed.
At some point, Punk seemed to have lost its bite. Perhaps it was the economic boom of the early ‘90s and the fact that a left-of-center, saxaphone-wielding leader was in the Oval Office that lulled the once discontented youth into a state of complacency. Maybe the artists were tired of the fight, preferring to hand over the reins to the Grunge musicians who regularly cited their Punk forefathers as influences. Whatever the cause, new Punk releases were often focused more on partying than politics. The genre was defanged, sanitized, and presented to the mainstream in a package wrapped in plaid, pins, patches, and, lest we forget, Punky Colors. But even with the onslaught of this new, user-friendly version of Punk, some artists refused to conform and continued to honor the politically motivated traditions of the genre. One of these was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Anti-Flag, a band that is still active and that still has a fire burning inside. Now celebrating the ten year anniversary of their album The Terror State, Anti-Flag seek out to perform the work in its entirety and made a stop at Gramercy Theater in New York City on Thursday February 5th with support from The Homeless Gospel Choir and Such Gold. Staying true to their beliefs, the band also arranged for a panel presentation, “Human Rights Salon: A Discussion with Amnesty International.”
Contrary to what the name might imply, Pittsburgh-based The Homeless Gospel Choir is a solo acoustic artist, Derek Zanetti, who writes Folk songs with political themes. On the Homeless Gospel Choir website, Zanetti writes in all caps, “ALL THESE SONGS ARE PROTEST SONGS,” and in keeping with this assertion, he introduced every song as such at the show. “Armageddon,” for example, draws attention to the distracting nature of the media and its propensity for fear-mongering. Zanetti explained that he wrote it after watching the National Geographic Channel show Doomsday Preppers. The return of a friend from war and his subsequent transformation into a completely different person inspired “When The War Is Over.” All of the songs address an ill of society, whether that be capitalism, greed, or war, but The Homeless Gospel Choir approached these topics with a healthy dose of humor, and, at times, Zanetti behaved like a stand-up comedian. Engaging and relatable, The Homeless Gospel Choir was a success in readying the crowd for a night of productive and thoughtful rage. His 2014 album, I Used To Be So Young, was produced by Chris # 2 of Anti-Flag and is available online.
Next to take the stage was Punk/Melodic Hardcore group Such Gold, hailing from Rochester, New York. The four piece, featuring Ben Kotin on guitar and vocals, Nate Derby on guitar, Jon Markson on bass and vocals, and Matt Covey on drums, played in support of their latest album, released in November 2014, titled The New Sidewalk. The venue was nearing capacity for the second act, and Such Gold played an energetic eleven song set including tracks from both the new album and their 2012 release, Misadventures. Among the fan favorites were “Two Year Plan,” “Committee Circus,” and the band’s opener, “Nauseating.” The band members were clearly enjoying themselves, particularly Markson who had an especially strong stage presence. Kotin, a long time fan of Anti-Flag, also had a blast, and told the crowd how stoked he was to play with Anti-Flag and to have the opportunity to skateboard during the sound check of the very same band that provided the soundtrack for his skateboarding excursions as a kid.
Before Anti-Flag showed their musical chops, they demonstrated their intellect by participating in a panel discussion with members of human rights organization Amnesty International. This passionate group of activists promoted the message that “Movements in history don’t start from the top down, but from the ground up.” Stimulating no matter what one’s political views are, the segment had everyone’s attention and, as a result, everyone was thinking about these important topics.
With songs like “Operation Iraqi Liberation (O.I.L.),” “Fuck Police Brutality,” and “You Can Kill the Protester, But You Can’t Kill the Protest,” the tenor of Anti-Flag’s politics is obvious. Not content to express themselves solely through music, however, the members of Anti-Flag are true activists who have performed at a number of protests, along with raising funds and advocating for a variety of political and social organizations, including Greenpeace, PETA, and Democracy Now! They are also founders of two activist groups: The Underground Action Alliance and Military Free Zone.
Anti-Flag hit the stage in true Punk fashion with bassist Chris Barker (Chris # 2) spitting into the water-throwing crowd as the pit erupted into madness. Along with Barker, frontman Justin Case (guitars and vocals), Chris Head (rhythm guitar and vocals), and Pat Thetic (drums) exerted their control over the frenzied theater performing The Terror State in its entirety, as promised, even including the bonus track “Fuck the Flag.” Not stopping there, the band followed with ten additional songs spanning their decades long career. Among these were 2006’s “The Press Corpse,” “You’ve Got To Die For The Government,” and show-closer, “Drink Drank Punk.” The performance was what one would expect of such seasoned musicians, and the crowd responded enthusiastically. Considered to be the band’s most polished record, The Terror State possessed a raw human emotion live that Anti-Flag exemplified with the utmost enthusiasm.
At the Gramercy Theater that night, it was clear that Punk is still relevant, and when considering the current sociopolitical climate, it is perhaps more necessary than ever. Anti-Flag and their Punk counterparts do not aim to create music that is easy to listen to. Punk is loud, raucous, and aggressive, arousing anger, which, in turn, leads to action. While those who do not understand the genre might observe a pit and assume the music and its fans are callous and violent, it is artists like Anti-Flag, Such Gold, and Homeless Gospel Choir, along with their fans, that remind us that there are still people in this world who care about the condition of humanity.