I have been waiting for so long to write about Ceremony that referencing their performances in completely unrelated articles just became a habit of mine. If I was writing about hardcore punk moshing and stage diving then I’d compare the peaks of that violence to the bar set by Ceremony when Anthony Anzaldo strums the first notes of “Kersed” or when Jake Casorotti starts the kick drum intro to their cover of Red C’s “Pressure’s On”. If I was talking about Joy Division’s many offspring, like in my Cloak and Dagger review, I’d talk about how Ceremony’s “L Shaped Man” is the only derivative of that style worth its weight. If I was talking about what I feel is the spirit of America as expressed in music, I would say it’s when Ceremony plays “Hysteria” and you can almost transport yourself back in time when Bill Haley & His Comets performed “Rock Around The Clock”, it’s that same desperate need to let loose, still in the air after half a century.
“…The only young band I’ve seen come close was Ceremony performing “Kersed” at Sound and Fury 2016, when the entire audience erupted when the opening notes of the song were strummed and there was one distinct sound that shot up into the air and that was the sound of everyone’s feet stamping on the Regent’s floor in a furious, collective CLAP!“
That quote is taken from an article I wrote about JD McPheerson, of all artists…. I’ve seen Ceremony only 5 times in my life, first when Negative Approach opened for them at the Echoplex, then at Sound and Fury 2016, a third time in San Francisco’s Chapel with Nothing opening for them which Anthony claimed was the best San Francisco show they’ve ever played, a fourth time for their Your Life in America show with Antwon at the Echo, and finally in Petaluma, California for their own festival called Home Sick at the punk rock haven known as the Phoenix Theater.
Briefly, on the Phoenix Theater, here in LA we don’t have venues like the Phoenix, so we have a limited idea of what is possible for a concert hall. When I first marveled at this space’s size, regal graffiti, and skateboard-ready floor, I was completely blown away. Little nooks in America like Petaluma force punks to make the most of what they have and more often than not, it just so happens that their most is better than our Los Angeles standard.
The festival itself was curated by Ceremony’s guitarist and resident Prince-lover Anthony Anzaldo and just by the list of bands he acquired, I can tell that theres a reason why Ceremony is my soul-band, we simply share the same tastes. A lineup I created would probably look similar with goth, shoegaze, hardcore, thrash, doom metal, electronic post-punk, industrial, and of course Ceremony. When you’re into that many styles one has to wonder what the through-line in your taste is, perhaps I subconsciously look for aesthetics before sound, maybe so long as it’s dark and good, I’ll be into it. Whatever the reason may be, it was enough to get me to drive to Petaluma for the weekend.
Home Sick, the festival’s name, can have many different meanings. For one, most of the bands on the bill are from Northern California so perhaps this is Ceremony’s way of celebrating their roots. It could be a reference to their song “Sick” on Rohnert Park which might be the most socially relevant tune in the band’s whole catalogue at this political moment. Here is just a sample of the lyrics:
Sick of the GOP
Sick of liberals
Sick of me
Sick of Obama
Sick of head trauma
So very tired of being sick
Sick of living in America
Sick of mass hysteria….
To me though, Home Sick means getting to start my year right by re-grounding myself in the setting of a concert by my favorite band.
Petaluma is an interesting little town a little over an hour outside San Francisco. The bay breeze still fills the air making the American flag over the hotel Petaluma dance and buckle to keep those stars and stripes flexing through the night. There were street harpists on bookstore corners and for a second you might think that a hardcore festival was some kind of disruption of the town’s peace but once you see it then you realize punk rock is any little town’s shadow.
I arrived before Doors at 2:00pm like I was a punk walking into Crass’ communal home in Essex. No one checked my credentials, I was just there to hang with all the crustys and play the free Rival Schools arcade machine in the lobby. I then watched a few bands sound check and said whats up to Anthony. Once they had started letting the public in, I strolled up front to check out the day’s first band, Oakland’s post-hardcore trio: Super Unison.
Taking their name from a Drive Like Jehu song, Super Unison boasts that they combine the sound of Dischord Records with Riot Girl. One can hear that fresh post-hardcore guitar tone in every riff, just pure dissidence and focused anger with every clean strum of the hand. Songs like “You Don’t Tell Me” touch on the objectification of women whenever men talk down to them with just as much vigor as Fugazi’s “Suggestion”.
Acrylics was next and were probably one of the most physical and jarring early acts I had ever seen at a festival. Lead singer Mark Nystrom can withstand incredible amounts of punishment as he flops around on stage, slamming himself full force without a care for his body. I’m not saying he’s overweight, but ask any professional wrestler and they’ll tell you that fat absorbs and muscle tears, so perhaps the best body type for the job of hardcore singer is Mark’s. My gushing over the antics shouldn’t take away from the music which is absolutely frenzied and abrasive. It’s almost auditory violence, with notes bending and drums blaring at insane speeds as Mark goes ape shit on the stage and mic.
From hardcore to goth, Screature seemlessly took the wheel and drove the fest into a darker, more moody direction. Another band hailing from Sacramento, Screature uses electronics, guitars, and drums to create a building, hypnotic psych rock and goth infused sound that Liz Mahoney can wail over. Carrying on in the tradition of many Irish goth sirens, Mahoney’s vocals emote warning and chaos just as much as they soothe. In songs like “Hit the Void” one can hear what sounds like a hybrid of Black Sabbath with Bauhaus.
Remaining in the void, Hide was next, bringing together a mixture of goth, industrial, death rock and the kind of bdsm burlesque you might see in a Ralph Bakshi film. Demanding that all the stage lights be turned off, singer Heather Gabel writhed around in stockings and tattered clothes under flashing white strobes. She is a fierce creature with a visceral message and no fear in nakedly showing all the pain most people are determined to “hide”. Through her body and voice alone, she was able to give us a shocking and memorable display of her spirit.
After Ceremony, the next band, the O.C.’s Fury, was probably the reason I roadtripped out to Petaluma. I had seen them perform at Sound and Fury last year and thought they stole the festival. Ever since then, I’ve been obsessed with their 2016 release Paramount, which to me sounds like the reincarnation of Black Flag. Songs like “Damage Done”, “In Extremis” and “Death Yellows Life and Reason” are able to maintain the brutality of hardcore but still have a rock and roll sensibility that even mainstream listeners can understand. I think Fury has the musicianship, the following, and the charisma to be a top tier hardcore band the likes of Trash Talk or Ceremony or Turnstile. I could even see them transcending those bands if in their first effort they can produce a song like “The Feeling”. That riff cannot be denied and audiences at Home Sick certainly weren’t going to be the first, they fought like dogs to get a piece of the microphone to spit some of the lyrics in.
Fan favorite, Culture Abuse is like instant ramen, just add a stage and you got a party on your hands. It takes a certain kind of mojo, something special inside, to be able to bring that spirit out in audiences every time you play. Hailing from San Francisco but now residing in Los Angeles, singer David Kelling has that spirit. People quickly forget the fact that he was born with cerebral palsy when he brings more life and energy to his shows than 90% of the bands touring these days. Combing hardcore, grunge, and punk, Culture Abuse is really a classic alternative band with catchy songs and lovely lyrics about real-deal issues a punk probably faces every day. Any bill that has Culture Abuse supporting on it is sure to be an amazing show, it’s only a matter of time until they go from support to headliner though, this is clearly just a train that cannot be stopped. And that’s because that train runs on good vibes by good people making good music.
Doom metal was the next genre to be touched on at Home Sick with shoe-gaze ridden, slow metallic groans from beyond as played by San Francisco’s King Woman. You can look up numerous lists online that will rank the band as a group to watch in 2018 and with the popularity that doom has gained in the metal community, it’s easy to understand why. This band brings a sultry and ethereal element to doom that you don’t hear from other bands. It’s one third Zola Jesus, one third 4AD records, and then another third Warning. Kristina Esfandiari’s singing was beautiful and penetrating as she stood among us in the audience rather than up on stage, getting in our faces as to confront us with the beauty of her sound. It was the kind of music that almost made you uncomfortable, in a good way.
Black Marble is the best electronic post-punk outfit currently playing music… and there are a lot. Whatever other bands come to mind, I’ve seen them and their live sound simply isn’t as lovely and beautiful, note by note, as Black Marble’s is. The blending of synths and guitars is so hypnotic and lush that one could fall in love with anyone or anything to that music. It just floats you into a vulnerable place with ease and caring to tell you all of Chris Stewart’s stories of love and loss.
I’ve never been a fan of screamo or emo or that kind of post-hardcore that people mislabel bands like Underoath as but when a band like Los Angeles’ Touche Amore has an audience eating out the palms of their hands at every show I happen to see them at, I can’t deny the fact that this must be an amazing band. Song after song, the audience knew all the words and sang along in pure ecstasy to Jeremy Holm’s total command of them. This was the band’s 999th show and one can see how versed they are in how the audience reacts to every moment of every song. Touche Amore fans are more die hard than any other band’s that played this festival and I was die hard enough to road trip for Ceremony, so that’s saying something.
Power Trip has entered 2018 as the new kings of thrash. Of all the young bands and even most of the old ones, Power Trip shows seem to be selling out left and right and becoming slam and stage dive sessions like none other. Nightmare Logic just had so many bangers like “Executioner’s Tax” and “Soul Sacrifice” on it that the band gave new hope for metal coming into the next decade. Their Home Sick set was no exception to the rule of chaos, before the band went on, the Phoenix’s owner had to tell everyone to be mindful of where they stage dove and not to fuck up his wedges. Then within moments, singer Riley Gale destroyed his mic stand. The insanity kept revving up with people flying all over the place and the violence peaking at a fever pitch. The band paused and praised Ceremony as Riley reminisced about the first time he saw them and then ever since he would go to Ceremony shows whenever they came back to Dallas. That’s exactly what happened with me and now every time they play Los Angeles, you can expect me there.
Ceremony has done something that no other band I know of ever has. They changed styles half way through their careers, turning from a straight up hardcore band into a post punk band. Now it’s not the sound of the music or the fact that they changed thats original but rather, at shows they play songs from both periods and now the hardcore kids are slamming to post-punk songs like “The Separation” while the post-punk kids let loose, dancing to hardcore songs like “Sick”. This fusion of two very different styles highlights a symbolic meeting of sadness and anger, the two driving emotions in American youth. And with songs like “Your Life In America” it seems that deriving some kind of meaning as to what being American is all about seems to be Ceremony’s M.O. Ceremony’s music is an inditement of the American way of life, where we all become desensitized machines, constantly being inundated with media hysteria to the point we get sick of everything from the liberal heroes to the conservative villains. If Ceremony’s music has the same effect on kids as Rock Around the Clock then perhaps in the year 2018 it’s a TV set stuck on CNN that we’ll all be rocking around.
Before the band’s set, I hung around outside and heard murmurs from fans saying this might be Ceremony’s last show seeing as singer Ross Farrar is getting his MFA in poetry and guitarist Anthony Anzaldo started a solo project called Anthony. The band played a rather short set, only 40 minutes with no encore to top off their own festival, not that the show wasn’t epic. The band then discredited any rumors of this being the end of Ceremony, saying they’d see us next year and if that lineup is just as eclectic as this one was then they will indeed see me again at the Phoenix next year.
Words and videos by: Rob Shepyer