I was feeling a little ill – both physically and mentally – but knew I should go anyway. Sick of it All was holding their record release party at Irving Plaza for their new album Last Act of Defiance
and I had already purchased two tickets. Despite the fact that I had paid the ticket price (plus the extortion fee of $12 per ticket to Live Nation), three of my favorite bands were on the bill: Wisdom in Chains from Stroudsburg Pennsylvania, H2O, another legendary New York Hardcore band, and of course, Sick of it All. It would be a real shame to miss this lineup because my Thai food wasn’t sitting well and my brain was acting a fool, so we decided to drive into Manhattan and make the best of it.
We arrived right before Wisdom in Chains was scheduled to go on. The band that preceded them was called White Collar Crime, and although I missed most of their set, they sounded like a band I could get into and will mentally bookmark them for later reference. Although I’m not from Stroudsburg, or anywhere near it for that matter, I spent a lot of time skateboarding in the area growing up. I know it’s a rather small town in the Poconos of which I’m accustomed to, and feel that small town people from PA share a common bond. It makes me a proud Pennsylvanian when one of the hardest hitting bands in modern hardcore are from my home state. They make me want to cover myself in keystones and scream from the mountaintops about cheesesteaks and whoopee pies. The set list was great as usual although they skipped their ode to PA – Land of Kings – which I’ve never really seen get the love it deserves outside of the keystone state. The crowd was rowdy and more into WIC than I’ve ever seen in New York, which helped get my blood flowing and purge the negative feelings I was having that evening. The closing song, Chasing the Dragon, a tribute to the godfathers of the scene, was punctuated by Mad Joe Black earning his name by reaming out a bouncer who decided to throw a crowd surfer to the floor instead of simply helping him out of the barricaded area. Had this been a smaller, less prestigious venue than Irving Plaza, I could have seen a small riot breaking out, especially since the conflict took place at the buildup of the heaviest part of the song. Security at Irving Plaza should know better than to rough up fans at a record release party for one of New York’s finest.. must have been a new guy.
My wife joined me down on the dance floor for her favorite band, H2O. Being small and not the moshing type, she prefers to stay in a low action area, usually off to the right side of the stage. She has a remarkable ability for finding the tallest people in the crowd and standing behind them, securing the fact that she won’t be able to see anything. As soon as Toby Morse took the stage, all hell broke loose and I soon lost sight of her. H2O is probably the most user-friendly style of hardcore still to be considered hardcore, which is why they attract such a diverse range of fans at their shows. This is both good and bad because the pit is occupied with everyone ranging from teeny bopping pop-punk girls to meat-head chooches in their local pipe fitter union t-shirts. In my experience, it’s always a mixed bag of nuts at an H2O show. During their set I rode the crowd to the front for my chance to sing, and in the process came very close to hitting my wife. I later sent her a text, “sorry for almost kicking you in the head”, an exchange forgivable in few contexts, hardcore shows being one of them. In between songs and Toby’s shout outs (of which I counted around 27 for the night) he made a short speech about how we are never too old for hardcore.
“I’m 44 and feel 24 because of hardcore. You never, ever get too old for this… You never grow out of this music. This music is embedded in you for the rest of your life.”
“Fuck yeah!” I said to myself. Shortly there after, I got kicked in the face which had me rethinking my “fuck yeah.”
When Sick of it All took the stage, I was primed and ready to rumble. It’s rare that I stay on the dance floor for three full sets, but as mentioned before, my mental state wasn’t 100% and felt I really needed this – plus, this was a killer lineup. The most accurate description of the feeling I get when going to shows, specifically being in the pit, I’ve only found in the movie Fight Club.
“Fight Club Hardcore wasn’t about winning or losing. It wasn’t about words. The hysterical shouting was in tongues, like at a Pentecostal Church. When the fight show was over, nothing was solved but nothing mattered. Afterwards, we all felt saved.”
I needed “saved” this particular night and knew this was the answer. Sick of it All is, and will always be, my favorite hardcore band. Before I knew what hardcore was, I had an educational conversation with a straight edge kid in Utah about the genre. He said there is one band that you’re going to like regardless of whether you like good hardcore or bad hardcore – Sick of it All. They are at the top of the food chain in the scene, and while they won’t sell out stadiums (at least here in the States), they are true legends. I feel grateful to have been able to see them so many times and still get star struck when front man Lou Koller says hello to me.
They played a lot of classics, opening with one of my favorites, Good Looking Out, which has always reminded me that, “when life’s not fair, true friends will always be there.” About a third of the way through the set, I positioned myself in the front of the crowd in a prime sing-along and finger-pointing location when suddenly I saw stars. As much fun as it can be being in the front, you will almost surely get used as a prop for someone who wants to be a little farther up front than you. This particular kid (accidentally) gave me a G.I. Joe head stomp while clawing his way towards the stage. I’ve been hit in the head many times at shows and my first reaction is always to check for bleeding. I placed my hand on my face and felt something wet. “Damn it” I said, and started to make my way to the back of the crowd. I felt a bead of blood trickling down my face as I snaked my way through the crowd while trying to take off my flannel to use as a bandage. Head wounds tend to bleed more intensely than others; I must have looked like a wreck the way the crowd parted like the Red Sea for me to pass through. When I got to the bar at the rear of the venue, I asked a man standing there to take a picture of it to see what it looked like.
“Oh shit…” he said. “You’ll probably need stitches.”
I promptly texted the picture to my wife who was stationed upstairs out of harm’s way, with a message “Got hit in the face. Coming up.” Had I been 10 years younger I may have used my blood smeared mug as a way of continuing to mosh and keep people away from me, but time has taught me to recognize when it’s time to stand in the back. I stood upstairs getting medical advice from every passerby that noticed I was holding ice on my eye. The best advice was to “will it away”, from a drunk guy named John, a talent that I’ve never been quite able to apply to physical injuries. John explained how he broke his toe and repaired it with willpower. I wondered if his willpower was strong enough to fix my eye but somehow didn’t think it would work. About twenty people told me to put a “buttah-fly” on it to hold it closed. I attempted to take their advice later when I got home and nearly ripped my eyelid off in the process. My final solution ended up being a good old-fashioned Band-Aid.
I made the best of my remaining time at the show, singing along in the balcony with an icepack on my eye and bloodstains on my shirt. If even for a few minutes at a time, I forgot about the outside world and focused on the beautiful screams of Sick of it All’s 25 years worth of music. They consistently destroy every show as if they are doing what they were born to do. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only listened to their new album once the entire way through, but I have no doubt that it is as moving, relatable, and hard-hitting as their recent releases. As I mentioned in a previous post, hardcore music happens at shows, and albums are simply to learn the words to prepare for those shows. Although I complain about living in New York sometimes, I know that I’m lucky to have access to this scene. It’s a special thing that few understand. The shows that are thrown here are one-of-a kind, and as long as I live in New York I’ll continue to go – regardless of how many times I get kicked in the face.