I don’t know what it is about Chicago in January, but Anti-Flag sure loves to come to town this time of year. In the ten or so Januarys I’ve been through in this city, I feel like most of them involved seeing Anti-Flag. This year, they came through town on their “Silence = Violence” Tour. I’ve been going to Anti-Flag shows for the better part of 15 years now and the way they structure their tour lineups remains an enigma. The first time I saw them featured Darkest Hour, Tabula Rasa, The Vacancy, and A Static Lullaby. Last year, it was with Reel Big Fish, Masked Intruder, and Direct Hit! because why not? The only lineup to make sense that comes to mind was when they toured with The A.K.A.s, Smoke or Fire, The Unseen, and The Casualties around 2006.
On this particular tour, Anti-Flag brought along a gaggle of hardcore bands. I had heard of exactly zero of them, but held out hope that the band that once brought Aiden on the road with them had wised up sense then. Something tells me that if I still read AP or paid better attention at Warped Tour last year to bands who were not Anti-Flag, I could have been better prepared. So, like the pro that I am, I showed up early to prepare for the interview I had scheduled that day with the band. There were a few die-hards who had already lined up outside the Bottom Lounge. But clearly, their priorities lied in getting a prime spot at the front of the stage over the joys of the bar. Being someone who enjoys their libations, I was ecstatic over the availability of a tequila barrel aged cider in addition to the always bump-able Rumplemintz.
By the time doors opened, enough of a line had formed that I didn’t feel like I had time to wait in it if I was going to make my interview. Turns out I had nothing to worry about as the band was either MIA or at local vegan eatery, The Chicago Diner. This gave me plenty of time to take in the atmosphere and the opening bands. Unlike most bands who profess to strive for a better world, Anti-Flag actively recruits groups they believe in and provide their fans access to information as to how they can help. Unlike the folks with clipboards who accost you on the sidewalk whenever the weather is nice, the groups at Anti-Flag shows are typically respectful. At the worst, they may lure you in with stickers or the promise of helping someone who needs a marrow transplant.
The music was about to start and still there was no sign of Anti-Flag, which meant I got to check out Erabella. They hail from outside of Chicago and describe themselves as “melodic hardcore”. Apparently that term has evolved over the years and I kinda missed the memo. I don’t listen to a lot of hardcore anymore, so when their intense stage presence and heavy ass guitars had me mentally flashing back to 2003 watching Darkest Hour, that term wasn’t the first thing to come to mind. Their songs were loud, fast, and hit hard. It was the kind of music you hear a lot of on Warped Tour, so it made sense when I saw the same kids from the front of the outside line getting into them. I would have liked to have followed up and hear some of their recorded material, but they don’t really make it easy to track down.
At this point, I was hoping this show might be another potpourri line up and the next band wouldn’t be so heavy that I couldn’t get into it. However, the drop-C tuning or whatever low rumble came from the amps didn’t bode well. My concerns were almost immediately put to rest, though as Sharptooth took the stage. The bass began to chug along as vocalist Lauren Kashan climbed into the crowd and I knew I was in for a treat. From her fearsome presence onstage to her vocal range that threatened to tear your throat out, she was a velociraptor. It was fitting as the band’s name is a Land Before Time reference and dinosaurs are the best. I was taken hold by the honest, femme-positive message being conveyed. The fact that they are from Baltimore comes as no surprise because the visceral, unapologetic attitude of War on Women came to mind as their set unfolded. It was around the time Lauren stood on stage and declared how she was raped and tore into the rightfully enraged anthem that is “Can I Get A Hell No?” that I had to go meet Anti-Flag for our interview. As hard as it was to tear myself away from the rest of their set, I knew Sharptooth is something special and the best reason to show up early to this tour.
My interview with Pat Thetic ran on the long end of 40 minutes, so I missed all but the last song of The White Noise. From what I could tell, they were very loud and given that I only had a few minutes to listen, that qualified them to be on this tour.
Long Island’s Stray From the Path were anchoring that night and they were very honest and pissed off, as promised. However, I couldn’t shake the fact that they just were not my favorite style of hardcore. They reminded me of the kind of bands who wear basketball jerseys and stomp their feet a lot. The crowd seemed to like it plenty as they were keen to sing along to the call and return choruses and respond to the calls for a circle pit. While it was nice to have a conscious message being put out there, unlike Sharptooth who spoke from a place of personal experience and anger, Stray From the Path struck me as the kind of band whose message feels detached and ends up getting you into a more meaningful band down the line. I was glad to see them having a good time with an energetic crowd, but nothing about them made me want to come back for more.
Considering that I’ve seen Anti-Flag at least once or more a year over the last 15 years, it’s hard to imagine there being a whole lot of surprises left. What I continue to appreciate time and time again is just how dedicated these four are to putting on the best show possible. Starting things off with a dance song like “When the Wall Falls” from the new album into an older track like “The Press Corpse” and then previous closer “Cities Burn” worked brilliantly. Not that there was any risk of boredom at this point, but the energy was taken to 11 and never relented. Somehow, I never caught a full support tour for 2015’s American Spring, so I was thrilled to hear “Fabled World” live. For the most part, the set leaned on last year’s American Fall and 2006’s For Blood and Empire. Lately, those have been two of my favorite Anti-Flag records to spin and anytime you get to hear “Depleted Uranium is a Warcrime” live is a good thing. As expected, there were circle pits and dance parties and new friends made. I especially enjoyed getting to boogie down to “American Attraction,” a song I initially thought was especially dumb, but soon fell prey to its pop-laden charm.
I would have thought that my love for a band like Anti-Flag would have faded years ago. When you sit down to talk about them, they sound like such a reactionary, youthful fantasy, that it can be hard to take them seriously in your 30’s. However, that simply continues to not be the case. The world is a fucked up place and sometimes you need a place to go for release. With a positive message and an urgent live performance, Anti-Flag has continued to that for so many over the years. They genuinely seem to care about the issues they present and whether it’s through the songs they sing or the organizations they bring to their concerts, Anti-Flag remains an important and necessary presence in the punk scene. While they continue to confound me with their choice in touring partners, there are so many who benefit from hearing a message of hope and resistance like the one being put forth by the bands on this tour.