This year I'm attending my first Chaos in Tejas for three of the four nights. For those (including myself) who are unfamiliar with the festival, it's a gathering of punk, hardcore and metal from around the world. There are usually some reunion shows thrown in, as well as classic acts that the most knowledgeable of crust-punks would only know about. Honestly, just looking at the poster, I can pull out a few honorary acts, but it definitely makes me want to dig deeper into history just seeing the looks on some of these kids faces for some of these bands.
As for the history of Chaos, from what I could gather from one of the security guys on hand, the festival originally started in Atlanta as Prank Fest (associated with Prank Records) before moving to Austin under the same Prank Fest moniker. Nothing more than house shows, it switched over into Chaos in Tejas sometime in 2007 and has been going strong ever since under the festival name, and is beginning to include everything from a few indie acts to a few hip-hop ones as well. What's more punk than that?
What continues to draw so many from out of the state in their sewed patches, old school screamo t-shirts and a plethora of tattoos, is the line-up. Thursday night was quite a line-up even if you knew a decent bit about the festival. While it was getting tough-guy crowded for the Cro-Mags over at Emo's, I planted myself at Mohawk to see Converge absolutely knock it out in 30 minutes - and possibly one of the best 30 minutes of music I've ever witnessed. But I'm definitely getting ahead of myself.
The opening Trap Them was a band heavy on rock and aggression. The technicality and brute force of the band's set as it evolved in the dwindling daylight certainly set the mood of the night. By the fourth song, no fucks were given, and vocalist Ryan McKenney broke open his nose/mouth in blood - an opening statement to a weekend that will most likely see more of the same.
After a bold start, Touche Amore took the stage to an even bigger crowd of fans. On the edge of their second full-length release, Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me, the band didn't let up (except for technical difficulty with the drums), per usual, when "Cadance" was played, Jeremy Bolm dropped the mic and nothing but a scream-a-long was heard throughout the venue.
Title Fight took the stage to an even bigger crowd. Coming off the success of the more melodic Shed, fans are still sticking by the young band's gritty decor of driven punk music notable to that of Fat Wreck, BYO Records and their current label - Side One Dummy. It sheds a simple light on the fact that no matter how much the "sound of punk" changes over time - emo, screamo, post, pop, hardcore, etc. - there are always going to be kids, outcast and passion from a younger generation searching for answers they're not getting from the likes of the Leave it to Beaver, Pleasantville, "American Dream" society we're all taught to believe in from the beginnings of kindergarten to our first year in debt and middle class squaller.
So after Title Fight left the stage, it was gutted clean, and we all waited patiently for the arrival of Converge. Due to news received earlier that day, we all knew Converge were driving as fast as possible to get to the show before leaving home to take care of personal matters. After ten minutes past the original starting point, we were told the band would play inside - a capacity at least three times smaller than the crowd waiting outside. As some of us quickly made our way inside, we were then told the band would be playing outside again to a shortened set. With a quick set-up and not much of soundcheck, Converge plowed through one of the most powerful sets I've seen a band play ever. In a little over 30 minutes, I've never seen a crowd lose their shit in one act of pent up aggression and fun. (Surprisingly, only only kid got kicked out.) There's not really much I can say that could exceptionally put into words how amazing Kurt Ballou is at his craft. Besides his engineer work, his guitar skills are unholy, unreal and relentless. Sometimes it looks like he's not even trying. Even in Nate Newton's medical state, he still murdered his bass against Ben Koller's drums. What hasn't been said about Jacob Bannon's attitude towards crowds, life, and this scene that Converge has been staple of for almost two decades now. A band that continues to keep both old and new comers to hardcore on their toes in their technical prowess and intensity. It's very hard not to find a hardcore band not influenced by the group, and in the past five years, I've definitely come to more than appreciate everything the band has to offer to the table.
Bands like Converge are necessary to continue what is right in the punk scene: ethics, musical progression, honing of talents and continual support of the word "community." It's about playing down to the bullshit, but welcoming newcomers into something special. Unfortunately I missed the inside bands (very bummed about missing The Menzingers), but I was quite wiped out from work earlier in the day. Festivals like Chaos in Tejas and Fest are necessary. For some it's a family reunion of sorts. Others, it may open their ears to missing links in their back catalog. For me, especially after last night's show, it's about seeing that the ideals of punk - the rawest rooted morals and common threads of angst, will be around from generation to generation for some time.
Tonight I had the pleasure, no wait, honor of interviewing Converge's Jacob Bannon. His band is one of the openers for the Dethklok and Mastodon co-headling tour.
What a tour this one is at that.
High on Fire took the stage, a shirtless Matt Pike laid down licks that Ted Nuggent should be proud of. A little metal, a little Southern draw and a great opening to the evening.
Converge were welcomed to a crowd that wouldn't normally be at a Converge show. The crowd took a liking, opening up a circle pit and generally keeping a bit of mayhem alive. The band played a pretty even set across the board, whether it was the new brutality off Axe to Fall or some Jane Doe sweepers. Next time I'm able to catch the band, I would like it to be in a smaller venue - preferably a rowdy basement.
After seeing a hardcore legend, the next best thing to rock, metal - or whatever you want to call it - Mastodon are nothing short of stellar. This is a band that I have no problem in calling the next Metallica. Their songs are elegant, driving, rough pieces of music, both in the traditional and non-traditional sense of the word. Their show is an experience of classic and new age rock blended into one and setting the audience into both headbanging and dazes.
After a few intros, Brendon Small, drumming legend Gene Hoglan, famous Zappa axe man Mike Keneally and bassist Bryan Beller took the stage with backing video and short films that made the set a live version of Metalocalypse. Small may have created this generations Spinal Tap, though Dethklok may just rock to a level above 11.
It was a wonderful evening to get your ears blown out, be entertained and watch a general ambiance of great rock music. Though the headliner may be a bit of a parody, the bill doesn't include one punchline - just a punch to the face.
[ed. note: the set list below are going off the stage lists. I'm sure of Converge's and Dethklok's sets, and I know Mastodon played all of Crack the Skye, but since there was a delay in fixing the screen before their set, the rest of the set I'm unsure of.]