Bl’ast! / Denim & Leather @ The Star & Garter, Manchester 25/06/2014
Leaving a little late because of various adult responsibilities related to relationships, jobs and parentage, I got my hand scrawled on and entered the dark semi-humid confines of the top room at The Star & Garter to see a good few numbers by the support band on before the headliners, the fantastically named Denim & Leather. Apologies if I missed any other bands, I’m sure they gave it their all. Anyway, what I heard and saw was rollicking lead-lined and cement-booted sludge-punk with stinking bin bags of attitude. Like a kind of bastard offspring of Discharge. Standing next to Bl’ast!’s obviously impressed singer, the hawk-faced and smooth-headed Clifford Densmore (not on purpose I must add – I’m not quite that sad – he was standing by the door as I entered), I confess this four piece really socked out the grinding mono-note power. The young vocalist was particularly impressive, exuding a quirky presence that many frontmen just don’t how to, and reminding me in part of the late Ian Curtis, with his twitchy little idiosyncratic and spasmodic body and arm jerks. Top quality stuff that was enjoyed by everyone in the room. Check out a couple of their tracks from their forthcoming EP on their Bandcamp page. One to watch.
Bl’ast! took a good twenty minutes or so to eventually take the stage, walking through the crowd to whoops, roars and cheers of anticipation. The room was mainly packed with greying-at-the-temples faded tattoo guys in their forties who would’ve spent some of their teenage years digging the ferocious Black Flag-inflected vibes of ‘The Power of Expression’ and ‘It’s In My Blood’, just like I did. Plugging in and blasting off the launch pad, Bl’ast! tore into the old stuff straight away like they’d never been away. The set drew mainly from their first two albums (don’t ignore their third album though – the music is immense, although the recording sucks), both of which are criminally under-looked (until recently, thanks to Southern Lord) nigh-on-masterpieces of savage muscular metallic hardcore precision. The original members, vocalist Clifford Densmore and genial ace guitarist Mike Neider, looked humbled and pleased as punch to be sharing the stage with none other than Joey Castillo (ex-QOTSA, Danzig, Wasted Youth amongst others) and Nick Oliveri (who needs no introduction – if he does then do your homework dunce). The feeling I think was mutual too, as both Castillo and Oliveri must have grown up seeing Bl’ast! many times in the hot California night as snotty stoned young men.
This was fucking dynamite anyway, the time-served rhythm section lending the essential underpinning power to Neider’s wildly fluid and inventive riffs, thundering chord progressions and string-bending beauty, whilst the rasping looming figure of Densmore proved he still has one of the most distinctively magnetic and commanding voices in hardcore. Yes yes yes they sound like ‘Damaged’-era Black Flag (although they also can sound a little like Agnostic Front too) – even Henry Rollins said something along the lines of Bl’ast! basing their entire sound on ‘Thirsty and Miserable’. But let’s get over the obvious comparisons shall we? Why shouldn’t they use that awe-inspiring and neo-mythical sound as a blueprint? They certainly add on to the BF-sound in terms of power and creativity and are in no way a mere limp copy-cat band. ‘Fuckin’ With My Head’ was incredible, Densmore handing the mic to a mob of gleeful fans down the front to bark the chorus into. Thunderous slabs of rage like ‘Time To Think’, ‘Only Time Will Tell’, ‘Time Waits (for No One)’, ‘Surf and Destroy’ ‘Something Beyond’ and ‘E.I.B’ brought back semi-moronic days of trying to pop ollies, taping your mates albums onto crackling C90’s and tying your checked shirt around your waist like Emilio Estevez in ‘Repo Man’. Beautiful times.
Talking of the fans down the front…I’ve never seen a drummer throw a large heavy object at the crowd before and I’ve been to hundreds of gigs in the last 27 years of gig going. One particular dude who was slamming about and thoroughly enjoying himself, seemed to incur the attention of the preacher-like Densmore early on, who felt that the lads at the front needed to ‘break it down’ a little. Densmore announced the said dude as Bl’ast!’s ‘biggest fan in the world’ and offered up his balls for the rabid fan to hold. All said in cracking good humour of course (but not without a hefty hint of irritation), and mainly prompted by the said hyperactive dude picking up the monitor on several occasions, and also by his constant shoving of all others out the way. Anyway, said dude continued in his quest for violent hardcore oblivion, which suddenly resulted in Castillo wrenching an onstage electric fan from its position by his feet and hurling it with savage power at the dude’s Mohican-ed skull. The hyper dude (uppers, booze, or just adulation, or all of ‘em?) actually caught it using a combination of his head and arms (must have fucking hurt) and held it aloft with a roar of defiance (?) and then triumphantly dropped it down in front of the stage. The whole thing took mere seconds. Was this really ironic violence – a fan being thrown at a fan? Welcome to Manchester eh? Utterly incredible. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
The irony is that Bl’ast! would be more than used to violent hardcore dancing and slamming around in the pit. Had this dude done something that I had missed? Castillo was pointing to his arm after the incident, which appeared to have been cut, I presumed, by wrenching the electric fan skywards to throw at the mosh gibbon. Anyway, the band played on, and the dancing dude played on too, but there was definitely a rather muted atmosphere afterwards. People couldn’t really process what had happened. I loved it anyway, but I hope no-one was damaged (physically that is – I’m sure a few were damaged psychologically before the gig). Anyway, Bl’ast! gave it about 50 minutes of raw power and showed all present how to utterly rock out mid-eighties California hardcore-style. Genuine, focussed and as tight as fuck, this legendary band proved a top night of entertainment, and I sincerely hope Densmore and company do record a new album with the combustive duo of Castillo and Oliveri (who was surprisingly quiet by the way). It might not be any good, but listening to their massively under-appreciated back catalogue, it could also be 100% dynamite. Thumbs aloft for a memorable gig in more ways than one.
Scribed by: Adam Stone