A small, diverse crowd ranging from thirtysomething fans and overweight mosh-marchers to lanky, high school kids and excessively tattooed crust-punks packed into Covington’s humid, poorly ventilated (yet ever-endearing) Mad Hatter on Tuesday night for an evening of average-to-fantastic Speed Punk and Hardcore.
The first thing you should know about this show is that the headliners, MDC, are certified legends. Originally from Austin, Tex., the group, whose abbreviated moniker nominally stands for “Millions of Dead Cops” (but has also stood for “Multi-Death Corporations” and “Millions of Damn Christians,” depending on the band’s general mood that day) is one of the progenitors of politically pissed-off Hardcore Punk. Their 1982 debut record is easily one of the finest examples of how to make an intelligent, artistic statement rejecting the sadistic norms of capitalism and American society—and how not to growl and bark out preachy and self-righteous or overly simplistic and nihilistic lyrics in so doing. And then there’s the music, a mach-10-speed blur of hairpin turns, the sound of strangely structured, expertly executed and unpredictable thrash. Millions of Dead Cops is a unique collection of music, a breathless and desperate yet focused hardcore touchstone. It’s a groundbreaker ranking up there with LPs like The Germs’ GI, Bad Brains’ Rock for Light and Black Flag’s Damaged.
In any case, you’ve got to adjust for the fact that you’re seeing this band a full 27 after their creative peak. But first let’s address the openers. Locals SS-20, also ‘80s Punk veterans, are some local dudes with gray hair and major paunches. They churned out an apt, Dead Kennedys-indebted set of melodic and politically aware hardcore, but the performance was pretty anemic.
Portland, Ore.’s Embrace the Kill did bring some much-needed youthful energy, but these guys played the most faceless Victory-Records-style Speed-Death-Core imaginable. However, the unintelligible, cookie-monster vocals and samey-sounding songs were offset by the band’s good sense of humor; they told dumb jokes and ad-libbed between songs. One example: “What’s the difference between a bass player and a battery? The battery has a positive side.” HAW! Anyway, Embrace the Kill weren’t awful, but they certainly weren’t entertaining.
Boston’s Mouth Sewn Shut played next and presented a set of slightly more tuneful neo-Hardcore with Reggae/Ska influences, but they still came off sounding like Disturbed meets Earth Crisis most of the time. The best part of this group was the relative novelty of the lineup: a skinny, bearded, wide-eyed bassist, an excessively hairy drummer, a dreadlocked and bespectacled gentleman on guitar and a middle-aged guy (AGAIN!?) in a hat and no shirt on lead vocals. Songs like “Pro-Nature, Anti-Human” and “Drunk White Jesus” were kind of funny and sent the small pit into a flailing and running-into-other-suspender-wearing-concertgoers frenzy, but save for the last two mind-melting scorchers the band pulled out of their asses at the end of their set, they weren’t anything to write home about.
So that leaves us with MDC. Since we’re dealing with a hard-livin’ Punk band from the glory days and not Styx, half the original lineup is either dead or M.I.A. Three original members remain: lead singer Dave Dictor, guitarist Ron Posner and drummer Al Schvitz. They took the stage with replacements on bass and second guitar, and Dictor looked like a cross between an aged Alice Cooper and an aged Iggy Pop.
They started off with three crowd-pleasers from the first record—in fact, in the course of the night they played most of that first record. (God knows it’s not too tough a feat—the album’s only about 20 minutes long.) The energy was admittedly impressive. Ron and Al haven’t lost a bit of skill or tenacity in their march to elder Punk statesmen status. They tore through each song with warp-speed, staccato downstrokes and precise, thunderous rolls, churning out fan faves like “Businesses on Parade,” “Corporate Deathburger” and “Dick for Brains” with businesslike style. Dave regaled the audience with his sly wit and laid-back, deliberate style between songs, methodically ranting about the priests, the Klan, the mafia, smoking pot, battles with methamphetamine addiction and, of course, dead cops. While he mostly restricted himself to his place in front of the mic stand, his vocals were just as incisive and convincing as ever.
The show ended to universal smiles. Everyone seemed super-pumped to have seen their heroes in action—even if it was 27 years too late. It was good to see a happy and unruly, if small, crowd getting down to some classic strains of Hardcore Punk. While their influence and the strength of their debut LP is undeniable, MDC’s relevance as a touring, performing band is a bit debatable these days. It’s always sort of strange (or sad) to see middle-aged men performing the high-energy music they devised in their late teens or early 20s, but if it makes people happy, I guess it can’t be bad.