I could have seen Leftover Crack in Portland. In fact, I have before. I’ve seen them tear it up at the Hawthorne, I’ve seen them in Vegas, tearing it up at Punk Rock Bowling. Both times they were great– energetic and fun, bringing a sense of musical ambition and bravado to their radical anthems. This time though, I saw a chance to see a friend in Eugene and catch a band guaranteed to kill it. I’d never been to Eugene before, so it amounted to the question, “Why not?”
Besides an excuse to see an old friend, what drew me to this particular tour was just how ridiculously strong the lineup was. Leftover Crack was headlining, of course. Then there was Austin upstarts Starving Wolves, and then the amazingly melodic Bad Cop/ Bad Cop. It was the latter that I hadn’t seen yet, and probably the one I was the most familiar with on wax. The tickets were an easy purchase.
The venue was the WOW Hall, a surprisingly awesome place to house a show with the look and feel of a true DIY space. It was a fairly large room, nothing out of the ordinary for a concert hall, but with a very humble, community oriented vibe. The next day, while I was checking out an awesome record shop called House of Records, one of the dudes who worked there told me it had been a fixture of the scene forever, a place where the legendary Ramones had played. The more you know.
So, there were we. Checked in, relieved to find a beer and wine bar downstairs. We swilled IPAs and checked out the vests and watched from the screens as the local opener came on. It was loud, heavy, and reverberated through every wall in the house. With a couple quick chugs we left our drinks and went upstairs, curious as to what the local scene in Eugene had to offer.
And it is moments like this that make going to shows worth the sweat, smell, and claustrophobia. There’s no better way of discovering a new favorite band than being won over in the live setting. Broken Dead were the first opener, and they set the bar high early on. They played crust punk, the melodic variety not out of bounds for the likes of Tragedy or the Holy Mountain, but with a greater emphasis on classic hardcore and touches of the black metal that rears its head in some of Leftover Crack’s heavier tunes. Even cooler, is frontwoman Manda’s commanding presence, on both ax and vocals, impressing with her acidic screams and darkly melodic rhythm work. Broken Dead left me reeling with the excitement of discovery.
Not A Part of It, another Eugene local played next. They played a competent melodic punk, with boatloads of energy. Sort of Rancid-y, sort of Queers-y, but a bit harder edged with that classic 90s goofball intensity. At this point in the night, we were worried that the WOW Hall wasn’t going to fill up enough for a proper pit, because, even though we are often too old and tired to participate, a mosh pit, like a painting, is still a joy to look at. Each band brought a handful more, and slowly, the room was beginning to fill.
We were really there for Bad Cop/ Bad Cop, so we stayed close by for their set. The room filled up a bit more and to my surprise, punks were circle pitting with abandon to the Fat Wreck alums catchy anthems. There was still more than enough room to breathe, but Bad Cop/ Bad Cop sealed the gaps with their vocal and instrumental tightness, so much so, I can say with a decent amount of confidence that I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a band pull off harmonies as tight as theirs live. Besides their songwriting (and bassist Linh Le’s infectious stage moves), I was further endeared to the band by their palpable admiration for opener Broken Dead. On stage, they were incredibly complimentary, and to my delight a day later, I saw that it wasn’t just for show either. Facebook updates don’t lie, Broken Dead were added to the next two dates also. Cool stuff.
I managed to catch the last two songs of Starving Wolves’ set in Vegas, also opening for Leftover Crack. I was never really sure how to feel about them. Their recorded material is limited to a two song EP, and yet I keep seeing them on these big bills. A part of me thinks there’s some artificial push going on here, like there’s some sort of punk rock cabal that Starving Wolves is hooked up with that is trying to make them superstars or something. I don’t know. I can’t really be that negative beyond that, because they put on a raucous live show. They play a pretty melodic variety of street punk with a bunch of gang vocals. It all comes together in the live setting. Their hair is a silly exaggeration of everything punk rock, their frontman keeps making circles with his arms and reminding the crowd to circle pit; it’s goofy, but I couldn’t help but think it’s pretty earnest. Sometimes you gotta let go of your cool and just have a good time. Starving Wolves are an amazing live band, and punk cabal or not, they are worth seeing.
By the time Leftover Crack hit the stage, the WOW Hall was stuffed. Denim as far as the eye could see. This was when I started to reflect on Eugene as a whole, and decided that it was a pretty damn cool town. Not anywhere could support a scene like this. To see such an active group of participants at a punk rock show was sort of inspiring. I remember going to see shows in Spokane, a bigger PNW city, with a way lower turnout. I was in awe. And the unique feel the WOW Hall lent to it was of a real punk rock show. The people there, for better or worse, were punks, and they were there to let loose. Despite it being a pretty diverse show, there was a sense of danger too– not the sort of thing you expect to find (except from our most optimistic punks) at a major show with such household-name bands. I remember a moment in Leftover Crack’s set where a man stumbled out of the pit to the back of crowd, as soon as he cleared the mob, he collapsed with his hand in his head. Moments later, a throng of people carried him out of the building. I found myself reminded again and again, perhaps in comparison to seeing Nails the night before, that this was a punk rock show, and it was take no prisoners.
Leftover Crack’s set was a tense affair. It was where the night got weird, but no less fun. Stza was intoxicated, and super chatty, and not everyone seemed to enjoy this as much as I did. Some of the crowd got belligerent as the frontman told stories in between songs, chanting, “Shut the fuck up!” To his credit, he performed ably throughout the night, and heckled his hecklers right back, elongating his pause between songs with some mock tune-ups. The rest of the band took it all in good humour and stride. Brad Logan mused with Stza on whether or not he was “too nice,” and bassist Alec Baillie wondered aloud if he even knew how to play any of their old songs, with some gentle ribbing from Stza. The overall impression was of a band of punk veterans who happen to be old friends.
They played a range of material, Choking Victim songs included, which were met with a frenzied pit. Despite the tension between audience and artist at points in the set, this was probably the most enthusiastic crowd I’ve seen them have. They amplified their show by destroying a Donald Trump pinata on stage and then throwing it into the crowd. Turns out the effigy was filled with condoms, which dispersed throughout the venue. Soon, people were blowing them up like balloons and bouncing them around the crowd. As the band played, fat, inflated dicks soared above our heads. I’ve never seen punk rock be as sublime as it was then.
A special shoutout deserves to go to Kate Coysh for her role in Leftover Crack’s live show. She might just have to be one of the best screamers I’ve ever heard. She has the type of voice to send chills down your spine, and whenever she was on stage, whether taking the lead or trading off lines with Stza like some sort of rap duo from hell, it was impossible not to be wowed by her talent.
The set was finished family style. Stza announced that they were not going to do an encore, that they were just going to keep playing instead of going through the pageantry. They brought on Starving Wolves for one song, and Bad Cop/ Bad Cop for another, tying together disparate threads of punk rock with a sense of community. They ended their set with perhaps their darkest banger, Fuck World Trade’s “Operation M.O.V.E.” The incredible Kate Coysh took lead vocal duties, grasping an invisible orange in the air (any metalhead’s birthright, I suppose) and finished the night off with a buzzing electricity. Of course, the same assholes who antagonized Stza earlier antagonized more, calling for an encore. To no one’s surprise, the band kept their promise– once they were off stage, they were off for good.
The crowd in the WOW Hall dispersed and soon we were back out on the street, going through the show point by point, conversation points blooming out of every detail we could remember. It was one of the better shows I’ve been to, and probably the best introduction to a new city that I could hope for.