After nearly seventeen years, NYC skacore innovators, Choking Victim have returned for a Reunion Tour in select cities across the US. Since our West Coast staffer, AnarchoPunk is legally prohibited from entering Orange County, we couldn’t send him to the show in Santa Ana. Instead, he was awarded a no-expense paid trip to the Mile High City to catch the legendary trio’s performance at The Gothic Theatre. Check out his review and photo gallery below!
Despite never having been to Denver, I know folks from the area and have heard stories about how vibrant the scene is. When interviewing skacore act Rotten Blue Menace a few months back, they remarked on how young and lively their local scene was and credited that fact to the bumper crop of talent coming from the 303 lately. The opening act of the night, Wake The Bat, was tangible proof of those claims. Their rap infused style of songwriting sounded like vintage Rage Against the Machine but these young’uns were probably babies when Renegades came out in 2000. The lyrics were overtly anti-establishment with stunted, acerbic vocals chanting songs of protest. Near the end of the thirty minute set, the trio brought a friend out to help out with a spot on cover of RATM’s “Killing in the Name”. The performance was tight and although they didn’t always look 100% comfortable with their instruments, they executed flawlessly showing a high level of skill.
Another defining characteristic of the punk scene in Denver according to locals is camaraderie and how tight knit they all are. This trait was proven by the next band, melodic hardcore up and comers, Allout Helter. They hit the stage right around 9:45 pm and much like their predecessors, took on a political tone (the show took place a couple days after Trump’s Election) prior to kicking off and in between some sof the songs. Instead of the agitative messages and screams of vengeance, they calmly proposed unity and brotherhood and implored for a “circling the wagons” mentality as the best way to get through the tough times ahead. Though the set was political they avoided becoming “preachy” and still played through ten spectacular songs, mostly if not all, from the 2013 LP, Sinking, We Regress as well as their most recent EP, Ruins.
The most referenced fables about the Denver scene center around their pits and the brutality of them. Here lately, those stories usually open with “Then Screwtape took the stage…”. The pit up to this point had been pretty active but nothing close to what the legends foretold and then Screwtape took the stage. Their savage brand of pure hardcore is brilliantly juxtaposed by their youthful, clean cut appearance. Everyone must’ve gotten the set times, because by this time the crowd had neared capacity and the air had become damp and tepid, reeking of unwashed body parts. The somewhat reserved pit erupted behind me from the opening song and didn’t subside throughout the entire set as the quartet played through their self titled, EP along with some unreleased songs (not sure if they were new or not), “DMF”, “So Be It” and “No More”. This was by far the most energetic performance of the night. While the band was clearing the stage, the house lights came up and generic punk songs blared over the house speakers just as it had between every set on this night. I realized just how different the scene was here than in Los Angeles during one of those respites, when another mini-pit started after the set, circling violently to just the canned music. It was a beautiful site!
By the time crust punk royalty, Choking Victim got to the stage, the house was packed, all three levels, which highlights one of the final myths I’ve heard often about this newer punk enclave, the passion. As the original band lineup (Alec Baillie on bass and Sean ‘Skwert’ Mcardle on drums) played through their discography, the crowd was enthralled and engaged almost in reverence to STZA. From my vantage point in the photo pit, I couldn’t see the savagery taking place behind me. But I got a hint of the barbarity every time the metal barricades I was perched on violently jolted me forward as the frenzied mob pushed and shoved their way nearer their idol. Every once in awhile, I had to forgo a shot to aid the security staff with getting an errant stage diver back onto his/her feet and on their way back to the mayhem. The trio played through Squatta’s Paradise (enlisting the help of Kyle White of Public Serpents), Crack Rock Steady as well as their lone EP, 1999’s No Gods, No Managers. My favorite thing about the whole performance was how well it translated from the albums to a live performance. I guess that’s the benefit of recording on the cheap! About the only song that took on a different sound was the crust anthem, “Crack Rock Steady” which was lead by Joey Steel of NYC hardcore outfit, All Torn Up. Throughout the set, the band took few breaks, usually filling them with level headed conversations about the politics of our nation.
Without a doubt, this was one of the best live performances of the year for me. From the lineup of incredible bands, to the beautiful venue and welcoming city, I couldn’t have even asked for a better atmosphere for this particular show (occurring right after a heated election with a polarizing outcome). Add to that, the fact that none of us in that room ever thought we would ever see Choking Victim perform live again and it was the perfect night out in the Mile High City. Screw Orange County.
***Special thanks to Johnny Wilson and the good folks over at For the Love of Punk for hooking us up with a photo pass at the last minute. You guys are life savers, we owe you one!***