The mighty, punishing, blue-collar punk heroes of Detroit, Negative Approach, are one of my favorite bands of all time and their seminal album, Tied Down, is on my top ten albums of all-time list. They’re a band I’d do just about anything for, any act of band worship and fandom. I brought my shine-box to the show, just in case they wanted their boots spiffy. Any chance I get to see Negative Approach live, I do. So certainly, a powerhouse Echoplex lineup featuring Negative Approach, Final Conflict, hardcore super group Bloodclot, and headliners, Nails, had me buzzing just thinking about what kind of violence I’d endure and witness.
The moment I walked in, I zipped straight to the merch table and saw the holy grail of T-shirts, a lime-green Tied Down shirt, the same color scheme as the album. I gleefully threw my twenty dollars at Negative Approach’s drummer, Chris “Opie” Moore who was slinging the merch. This was one of those rare concert consumer moments that made me more elated to buy this shirt than to listen to some of the bands playing.
Atwater Village locals, Haarm were the first band of the night- the acid rain before the storm. These Latino hardcore heads exploded on stage and impressed the hell out of this hometown crowd. The singer had a crude and violent growling style that sounded like his vocal chords were shredding and peeling with every note. Their bass had plenty of that hardcore bounce to make you puff out your chest, bob your head, and feel tough. Their guitars would bend and feedback, introducing plenty of nuance to their extreme sound. At one point, Haarm’s singer told us that this was his first band and at 38 years old, we should take his example as evidence that you’re never too old to realize your goals.
Final Conflict was another LA band on the bill with an intriguing story. These guys were featured in Penelope Spheeris’ Decline of Western Civilization Part 3. They were the best band of the bunch from that documentary but unlike parts 1 and 2, no one from part 3 broke out in any substantial way. Since their inception in the 80’s, only one original member of Final Conflict has stayed through thick and thin, veteran gnardog and guitarist Jeff Harp. Most of the current lineup has been with the band for decades, though.
Final Conflict’s sound was raw and reeking of timeless dissidence. You could hear their old-school roots beneath a new school understanding of their songs and performance. All those years in the underground didn’t stop the band from evolving. When it came to the political banter that is necessary for any punk rock bill of this magnitude, Final Conflict’s singer, Ron Martinez, took the reins. He called out anyone that voted for Trump in the building and by the looks of some of those shiny shaved heads you could tell he wasn’t just preaching leftism to the choir.
That long hair don’t cover up that red neck, boy!
Martinez simply laughed at anyone so stupid as to be duped by a snake-oil salesman that wouldn’t execute a single thing he promised on the campaign trail. The illegals are staying, the jobs aren’t coming, and no wall separating Mexico from what used to be Mexico is being paid for by Mexico. The band dedicated the song “Apocalypse Now” to Trump’s America with Jeff Harp teasing the star-spangled banner on guitar.
Smoking, I caught John Joseph outside before he went on with Bloodclot. He was burning two incense sticks probably for some Hare Krishna pre-show ritual he has. We talked about veganism and he told me I added 10 years to my life since making the switch to a plant based diet. John Joseph has always been my preferred touring member of Cro-Mags, as both a vocalist and personality. Nothing against Harley, who rips too.
I saw Bloodclot’s very first show at Power of the Riff 2016– this was their first time returning to Los Angeles since. Now, after releasing their first album entitled Up In Arms, the super group went on an American tour supporting Negative Approach. Bloodclot is made up of John Joseph from Cro-Mags, Joey Castillo and Nick Oliveri from Queens of the Stone Age, and Todd Youth from Agnostic Front and Danzig.
The new album seems to have just as much Hare Krishna and PMA inspired worldview as it does Don’t Tread On Me, Sons of Liberty politics. Maybe that’s just me reading too much into their lyrics though .
We, we ain’t gonna fall for your lies
We woke up and we opened our eyes
We’re, we’re gonna sound the alarm
It’s we the people
We’re up in arms
John Joseph is a tour de force live. A veggie-run engine with no end to his energy in sight. He moves and grinds and slams in perfect sync with Joey C’s thunderous drumming- which is no easy task for anyone of any age. Joseph, who is about to compete in his third Iron Man competition at 54, was sweating buckets but breathing easy. As a hardcore veteran, Joseph has seen it all, dedicating one song to anyone struggling with addiction, prefacing it with: “Help mothafuckas, do not talk shit about mothafuckas.” Then dedicating Soldiers of the New Babylon to HR from Bad Brains. Hell, even fellow New Yorker turned Angelino turned Circle Jerk, Greg Hetson was in the house, chilling by the side of the stage. Bloodclot went on to cover Motorhead’s “Iron Fist” pretty spectacularly, dedicating the song to Todd Jones from Nails.
One highlight of the set was Joseph’s political banter. Always taking a more spiritual understanding of the issues, he called Trump a distraction from the military industrial complex and pharmaceutical industry.
When Bloodclot’s set ended, plenty of people herded out and gave me my opening to crawl right up to the front. I saw photographer and Janky Smooth contributor Grace Dunn there and waved her forward to stand with me. I was a bit worried that some stage diver could make one wrong step and come careening into us but I just shrugged and thought, this is Negative Approach, she needs to see to be introduced to this band up close.
This was my second time seeing them. The first time was also at Echoplex opening for Ceremony. I guess Negative Approach is just gracious enough to open for young bands that owe them their existence, such was the case on this night because God knows, no Negative Approach = no Nails.
The most blue-collar, aggressive, street-wise sounding American punk band of all time took the stage and from the beginning of the first song, to the last moment of the end, John Brannon’s scowl never left his face. Anger is what Negative Approach is all about- their music flattens you out like a steamroller and gets all the crap out of your system. John Brannon’s voice was a wrecking ball that demolished the crowd and like I had suspected, the stage divers were out in full force.
Part of what makes Negative Approach so powerful live is their signature bass tone that is just so grimy and emphasized as played by Ron Sakowski. The band played plenty of my favorite songs off of Tied Down including “Tied Down”, “Evacuate”, “Dead Stop”, and “Nothing” then closed by covering a fellow Detroit band, The Stooges, with “I Got A Right”.
Drenched in sweat and filled with joy, I could’ve ended my night right then and there, totally satisfied but this lineup had much more devastation in store for me. Nails were added as headliners for the tour’s So-Cal shows, thus promising me a hellacious end to our evenings.
I’ve seen these Oxnard boys play a bunch of times already. I was really into Nails around the time the first songs off You Will Never Be One Of Us were being released. They are a band that pushes every musical element to its extreme- 1 minute and 30 seconds at a time. They’re equal parts hardcore, thrash, and death; like if Terror (a band Todd Jones used to play in) had a baby with Slayer and Deicide.
What was different about this Nails show than all the others I had attended was that it was wrought with technical difficulties revolving around Todd Jones’ guitar. At first, that might sound like anathema for their set but actually, when Jones put the guitar down and just sang like a classic front man, it was a truly amazing sight to see. In fact, there were shades of Phil Anselmo in his singing style that one can’t imagine while watching him play guitar. Once his guitar situation had finally been resolved, he started shredding harder than ever before. The band closed with a version of “Unsilent Death” that featured such sonic revelry that it transported us to some place that was simultaneously heaven and hell within a single riff.
Strutting out of the Echoplex, adding another notch of hardcore shows to my belt, I rested easy that night knowing no Negative Approach show ever gets passed me.
Words: Rob Shepyer
Photos: Dillon Vaughn