In a perfect world, the only people who attend shows would be a healthy mix of fans of the bands, those open to discovering something new, and the few parents here and there because it’s way too far to drive to and from the burbs twice in one night. Everyone would cheer their hearts out at the highs while being mindful that their good time wasn’t impeding anyone else’s. While we’re at it, tall people standing in front of you actually makes the stage easier to see, beers come in spill-proof cups, and everything is wrapped up by 11 sharp. Unfortunately, the reality is quite the opposite and whether folks aren’t into a strong performance or just drunk and knocking people over, a shitty crowd can really put a damper on things. When it comes to Propagandhi, I would stand in a room full of hornets to see one of their shows. Given my thoughts on their newest record and the fact that they were touring in support of said album, that would be the least of what I’d go through. So, when a pack of drunken bros does their best to piss of everyone within 30 feet of them, you better believe I’m not going to let that take away from one of the best lineups I can think of to shake off the winter blues.
When I arrived at the Metro that night, my greatest fear for the evening was realized: there was no barrier between the stage and the folks who might try to climb it later. As a photographer, this concerned me because I’ve seen the destruction that the fans of all three bands on the bill are capable of. I immediately became afraid for my camera’s safety. Having shot from the crowd plenty of times, I’ve experienced my fair share of close calls and taken many a boot to the head for the privilege. As I progress into my 30s, the prospect of picking out a spot up front to shoot the whole show from while being crushed by a wall of humanity excites me less and less. To be fair, I’ve put up with worse conditions for bands I like far less. So, being a professional (or something close to it), I wrapped my camera strap an extra time around my wrist, kept my fingers crossed the hardcore kids would save the gymnastics for another day, and dove in.
Kicking things off that night were Chicago hardcore punx by way of the Dominican Republic, La Armada. This band has been stateside for quite a few years now – ten according to the bassist – and in that time, we’ve never seen eye to eye. This was in large part due the fact that they were constantly added at the last minute to overcrowded bills and seemed to overstay their welcome. I’m happy to report that either I’ve grown since the last time I saw the band or they have because this was by far the best I’ve seen them. Fueled by an undeniably important message of intersectionality, the band delivered every word with the utmost fervor. I like to imagine it as the kind of music that might cause our current dipshit-in-chief’s head collapse like a dying star. These are the kind of strong willed, passionate, and fierce individuals we need in the music scene right now. It’s as if being on tour with Propagandhi tapped into something deep inside that brought out the best version of La Armada yet. In addition to their explosive stage presence, I was completely won over by the fact that the band has to bootleg their own record because of some bullshit with the label. That’s pretty badass, if you ask me and I wish them the best with that.
One of the biggest reasons the absence of a barrier concerned me had to do with what I’ve seen what fans of Iron Chic are capable of, especially in Chicago. At FEST 12, the crowd knocked down divider and they had to stop the show to repair it. It wasn’t long before security just said ‘fuck it’ and let it be broken for the rest of the set. I’m honestly amazed how anyone has ever survived an Iron Chic show in Chicago. They always seem to play way too small venues and let far too many people in. The ensuing chaos involves people crowd surfing like the floor is hot lava and throwing beers at the stage like the band is actively dying of sobriety. I have no idea where those people were, but I’m guessing they aren’t big Propagandhi fans because that was the stillest I’ve ever seen a bunch of people stand while Iron Chic played. The band was clearly having fun and the new album sounded great and was well received, but something felt off. Being able to move freely throughout the crowd with only the occasional most pit to dodge was weird. I kept waiting for this great surge of energy to come that could be felt bubbling below the surface, but even when the hits came up and the feet started to move a little, it felt lacking. Thankfully, Iron Chic are not one of those bands to let a weak crowd slow them up and stop them from putting on a strong set.
Before the band even took the stage, I and those around me had the unfortunate pleasure of discovering just how much Propagandhi’s “Back to the Motor League” was based on a true story. I don’t remember been subjected to such a swath of obnoxiously drunken white boys when they played the Concord in 2014. But there they were, trying to see whose buttons they could push. In typical shithead fashion, the boys had their ladies post against the stage so they had a place to keep their beers when they weren’t spilling them on unwitting participants in their antics. According to friend and Propagandhi confidant, Alicia, she manages to get stuck next to these kinds of bozos at every one of their shows. Thankfully, most of those around us had zero patience for their nonsense and we were able to bond over our mutual desire to shut that shit down ASAP. This was a huge relief as I and the rest of the sold out crowd were able to lose ourselves in one of Propagandhi’s most electric sets yet.
On tour in support of their latest, and one of my new favorites, Victory Lap, much of the set was drawn from that record. Much like other Epitaph contemporaries, Propagandhi seems to have developed a default set of songs to expect when seeing them live. “Fuck the Border” is a fantastic staple which typically features a member of one of the openers. This time the honor when to La Armada. The enthusiasm that was lacking earlier had erupted ten-fold by this time as the crowd threw middle fingers and their bodies in the air. By the time “Back to the Motor League” actually came up, the crowd seemed to have had enough of the evening’s offenders. Unfortunately for their companions, they were having a similar problem with their level of drunkenness and it was time for them to be escorted out. Hopefully their nights got better because once that element was removed the environment, the atmosphere really came alive.
It’s hard to imagine anyone being more excited for a Propagandhi show than Todd the Rodd. Based on his level of fist pumps alone, he would normally go uncontested. Then someone smoked out Jord before the show and he let off some of the most ridiculous gibberish I’ve heard in a long time. The band seemed to be equally amused by his willingness to explore the depths of weird his stoned minded ventured into. It didn’t seem to affect his ability to pull off some of the most technically precise drumming in punk these days. Whether it was “deep tracks” like my favorite track from 2012’s Failed States “Lotus Gait” to actual deep tracks “Nation States” and “Nailing Descartes,” there was no letting up. Newest member Sulynn Hago acted like she didn’t even know that disappointment was ever an option. She brought a vibrant, guitar shredding, hair-flip filled energy that could never hurt to have more of.
Ten years ago, Propagandhi was at the top of my bands I never thought I’d see. Then, just as my luck goes, they toured near my home shortly after I moved to Chicago. It wasn’t till later they announced a Midwest date and since then have made regular appearances along with new albums. There’s no secret why we are all such big fans of these Canadian political powerhouses at Bad Copy and this tour has solidified that even further. Yeah it sucks when the worst kind of people crawl out of the woodwork, but as long as decent folk are willing to put action to their words and keep the bastards in line, I have hope things can get better. After showering off the stench of a room full of unwashed masses, it really hit me how much more I enjoyed singing along to one of the best live bands around than I hated dealing with the bros. There’s a lot to be said about how a crowd can affect one’s enjoyment of a show, but there’s also no reason you can’t influence the audience with your own actions.