For the last two months or so, it seems, I've been listening almost exclusively to a single album.[^fn1] That album is David Comes to Life by a Toronto hardcore band called Fucked Up.
That’s hardcore in the punk sense, not rap, or anything else. All genres have a “hardcore” subgenre, it seems. I’m sure that somewhere there’s hardcore pop.
Anyway, this album causes me to put together three words that I never thought I’d see in the same sentence, never mind describing the same thing: punk rock opera.
I know, I know, rock operas are the bloated detritus of prog rock, and part of what we fought the punk wars against. Though truth be told, I’ve always been quite fond of Tommy. But in a sense it was always something that was going to happen eventually. When a genre or a medium has been around for a while, people will try to take it further than it has gone before, and that’s no bad thing.
And when you get right down to it, it’s all about storytelling, and who can complain about that?
So I was pointed in the direction of this album by a post on Mike Sizemore’s blog. Sizemore is a scriptwriter; I probably started reading his blog when someone like Warren Ellis pointed me at a teaser or “sizzle” video he and some other people made for a prospective science fiction series.
Anyway, he posted a link to the video for the second track off the album, ‘Queen of Hearts’, and spoke very highly of it, as you’ll have seen if you followed the link. If you haven’t, you should. Go on, I’ll wait. I watched it a couple of times, and though, “That’s OK, interesting premise, I wish I could make out the words.”
And then I forget about it for a while.
But one day something made me go back. I listened again. I downloaded the album. I fell in… not love, exactly, but fascination.
North American hardcore bands have a certain vocal style, which is certainly not to everyone’s taste. In that way, I realised, it’s not unlike actual opera. Sure, the vocal stylings are about as far apart as possible; but they are both very stylised. And my biggest two problems with opera are that it’s hard to make the words out (even when they’re singing in english), and that I don’t really like the vocal stylings.
Not to everyone’s taste, as I said.
Luckily, operas tend to have surtitles; and albums have lyric sheets. The lyrics for David Comes to Life are available on the web, as you might expect.
Anyway, I’m writing about this now because I haven’t got round to doing so before, but especially because I’ve just got back from seeing Fucked Up live. They were playing at a Shoreditch venue called XOYO in a “co-headliner” with a band called OFF!.
I tweeted a lot about it, and among other things, I expressed a degree of concern as to what it would be like going to a hardcore gig:
Going to see Fucked Up and OFF! tonight. Not sure what to expect. Haven't been to a hardcore-type gig since... Napalm Death in 88 or so?
Hmm. Not seen a hardcore gig since Napalm Death? That may well be true, but they’re British (and technically grindcore, according to Wikipedia). I began to wonder whether I’d ever seen a US (or Canadian) hardcore band live. The only one I could think of were Hüsker Dü, whom I saw in Edinburgh in – oh, 84 or 85.
I feel sure there must have been others, and yet the only such band that I was really, really a fan of was the Dead Kennedys, and if they ever played the UK it happened either without me knowing about it, or they only played far away from where I was, or both.
I needn’t have worried, though. The venue was just the right size, and comfortably packed. The crowd were gentle and lovely. The moshpit was pretty wild, but I turned 47 yesterday, which is officially way past too old for the moshpit, and I was well able to stay clear of it.
And it was a totally brilliant night. The first band, Cerebral Ballzy, were on when I arrived, so I heard three or four of their songs. They sounded pretty good, and more to the point, the sound in the room was excellent. Clear, and powerful, without being so loud as to be overwhelming.
OFF! were classic hardcore, in that if you didn’t like a song there’d be another along in way less than three minutes. I thoroughly enjoyed them.
And Fucked Up just ruled. I was thinking before they came on that I would leave happy as long as they played ‘Queen of Hearts’ And they duly opened with it! They then proceeded to play edited highlights from David Comes to Life, interspersed with a few other tracks. There was stage-diving, crowd-surfing, the singer diving topless into the audience and walking almost to the back of the venue while still singing (and using a wired mike, with a very long cable).
Anyway, if you’ve read to the end of this rambling thing, you should go and listen to some things. Here’s the ‘Queen of Hearts’ video, and it’s the first time I’ve ever embedded a video. Let’s hope it works. Note that this version has the kids in the video singing on it, which is not how it is on the album, but is very cool nonetheless.
And the second video from the album, ‘The Other Shoe’, which they also did tonight.