Just when I thought I had seen about everything Chicago had to offer, the Metro goes and announces a series of shows “On the Floor.” What is normally an 1,100 capacity venue sets up a smaller, more intimate stage on the floor while the crowd surrounds it and cheers. No pit. No barrier. No mercy. The first event of this nature was back in July and featured Chicago locals Turnspit. I wasn’t able to make it, but according to the folks who went, it was a rousing success. This level of intimacy excited me in all the right ways and seemed to be tailor-made for a hardcore show. Thankfully, someone else had a similar inclination and booked Leftover Crack for the second of these floor parties. I haven’t seen a proper show from the C-Squat stars since the last Bush administration, but this novel concept sent my scabies senses tingling. Not one to pass up a golden opportunity at a body bug infestation, I braved the frozen barren wasteland that is Wrigleyville in winter and was off to the Metro.
Kicking things off was Chicago’s own (and buds of ours), Still Alive. I first caught them years ago with Anti-Flag; this established a pattern of them opening for bands that I loved in high school. Blending hardcore and ska was one of the fastest ways to win me over 18 years ago and it’s nice to see there are still those carrying the torch. Still Alive’s blistering stage presence was exactly the kick in the stomach the crowd needed to get things started. I ran into Gillian from Turnspit on my way into the venue where she informed me that she would be joining the band for a song. This was very good news. I knew Gillian could growl, but what she unleashed onstage that night was a whole other monster. The best part of show doesn’t usually happen this early, but there I was in awe of what just happened. It certainly inspired the crowd into circle pits and fist pumps for the rest of their set.
I had only just listened to Crazy & the Brains earlier that the afternoon, so I clearly did not have enough time to know just what I would be in for. I certainly didn’t expect a fucking xylophone, but that’s exactly what was being set up onstage in front of me. Based on the number of people in the band, I was all set for ska. But what we all got was something a little more wacky, not unlike the World Inferno Friendship Society. I don’t get to describe many bands as ‘zany’ these days, but that exactly describes Crazy & the Brains. Their music is bouncy and energetic with a touch of not giving a fuck about what you think.
They had a healthy crowd of people pushing to the front to sing along and get down with the xylophone in the mosh pit dance parties that kept happening. It didn’t take long to get a sense of what the band was all about and realize how much sense it makes that they would be on tour with Leftover Crack. I have a feeling they could bring down the house with just about anyone on the bill. Their passion for the music they make rang clear. Between their non-stop dancing onstage and a clear desire to have fun with everyone else out celebrating music, Crazy & the Brains are worth keeping an eye out for.
When it comes to legendary 80s East Coast Hardcore bands, I am pretty lacking in ones that I’ve heard of. So, it should come as no surprise that I had no idea who Negative Approach is before this night. I have a hard time keeping up with all the bands who used to be a big deal, broke up, and now are getting back together twenty-some years later. I couldn’t understand a single word from any of their songs or tell you when one started and another ended. I had rely on those around me to tell if what was happening onstage was a good thing; like some sort of crowd barometer.
My lack of knowledge was the exception to the rule. From the first gravely notes of their set to the feeding back amps as the band left the stage, the rest of the crowd was a volcano ready to burst. Saying I’m too old for that shit seemed like a terrible excuse because Negative Approach has to be at least twenty years my senior and they played like it was still 1983. I had a blast watching security and the band themselves going to war with the crowd. Wave after wave of sweaty bodies were thrown back in the sea that spawned them. Whether it was an attempt to get in a word with the singer on the mic or to dive headfirst into a wall of waiting arms, the spirit of chaos that the band embodied so many years ago is still going strong today.
For being one of my favorite bands growing up, I haven’t thought seriously about Leftover Crack in years. Somewhere along the way, their shock-and-awe approach had began to lose its hold on me until I eventually decided their shtick was played. It wasn’t until 2015 that they released their third album, eleven years after the full-length that preceded it. Now with a new B-sides collection released, it would appear Leftover Crack was ready to prove that you can’t keep a good dog down. I knew I couldn’t miss an opportunity to see how 2018 Leftover Crack compared with the 2005 model. Standing by the one foot stage, I anxiously braced myself for a blast from my past.
If there’s one thing that can always be counted on at a Leftover Crack show is an abundance of crust fund punks. Either the recent cold snap killed most of them off or they simply packed up their stick & bindle and headed home for the winter because they were nowhere to be smelled that night. It looked like I wore extra deodorant for nothing. That wasn’t the only change. Guitarist and title/subject of one of my favorite Rancid songs, Brad Logan cut his hair. I assume the decision to get rid of the dreads was at the behest of his family and to the dismay of local exterminators. When Stza took the stage in a suit and sans guitar, I was fully expecting an echo of former greatness that so many revived bands emit in their autumn years. It didn’t take long to prove me wrong.
The heavily slurred and often incorrect lyrics took me right back to where I left off seeing Leftover Crack. What I didn’t see coming was the haircut. After head-banging his way through “Nazi White Trash” and “Don’t Shoot” I couldn’t help but draw a comparison between Stza and Doc Brown from Back to the Future. Apparently we were on a similar wavelength because before the next song started, he requested some amateur stylists to the stage along with a rant about how if wait long enough at a punk show, someone will eventually cut your hair. I don’t know. It was weird. The two volunteers were presented with a pair of scissors, a brush from somewhere, as well as the length of “The Good, The Bad, & the Leftover Crack” to get the job done. Nothing about this seemed like a good idea, but since it wasn’t me, I was delighted to watch the nonsense unfold. Stza was a little disappointed that the result wasn’t as drastic as you would expect and frankly, so was I. He did begin shedding his shirts at this point, so I’m betting his haircut made him itchy and the alcohol in his glass was making him drunk.
The rest of the evening was spent bouncing between Leftover Crack and Choking Victim songs, with the latter still getting the biggest reactions from the crowd. Speaking of a rowdy bunch, this was the point where Brad Logan lamented to the few remaining folks in the balcony that they were missing a hell of a show on the floor. This prompted one such individual to skip the stairs and just climb over the railing. Still a better idea than letting strangers cut your hair in the middle of your show. When Joey Steel from All Torn Up stepped up to do backing vocals for “Crack Rock Steady” his intense delivery made for a perfect distraction to the fact that Stza still can’t get verses right. Come to think of it, he sang a lot of backing vocals that night to much accolade. Steel onstage was the most refreshing part of a performance that felt straight of last decade.
The night ended with not one, but two returns to the stage from Leftover Crack. The first time wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the band’s parting words were something along the lines of, “We’ll be right back.” So, everyone kind of milled around with Leftover Crack standing offstage. Morning Glory is high on my list of bands I prefer after splitting, but I have to admit that I like Leftover Crack’s version of “Gang Control” better. While a bigger surprise would have been their take on “So You Wanna Be A Cop,” but I was more than happy to scream “Fuck the Police” along with the rest of the eager folks. It went over so well, they came back for one more song about killing cops before calling it a night.
If there’s one thing I learned from all this, it’s that watching other people have fun getting nuts at a show is far preferable to me doing it anymore. I’ve seen countless Leftover Crack shows and tonight on the floor, in all its sloppy, sweaty, and over-the-top glory felt like the best representation of the memories I carry with me. I may have written myself off as too old and tired to keep up with the mosh pitting and crowd surfing I used to enjoy, but fuck if it isn’t fun seeing folks embodying that spirit today. The fans all came to have fun and that’s just what they were delivered. I’m hoping the Metro continues this series of shows on the floor. It was a huge pleasure watching four bands embrace the concept and thrive with nothing separating them from the fans.
Special shout out to the now closed Wrigleyville Taco Bell. Your legacy as the only fast food restaurant I’ve ever been in that required armed security will live on forever. I will miss my post Metro grilled stuffed burritos. R.I.P.