by Erik Hughes

When I first heard rumblings about Horriblefest, I thought, “Yeah fuckin right.” I mean, it’s Cleveland, y’know? Things have a nasty habit of falling apart here, rusting far quicker than nature intends. It’s easy to give up in or on this town. The sky is still gonna be grey tomorrow and the streets will still be broken, probably from the sheer force of half a million downcast eyes.

But then I slapped myself hard in the face and decided to get psyched. I mean, these are the streets where nobody lives. We deserve a fucking Punk Rock Hoedown as much as the next crumbling city.

So, God bless one local degenerate (Ryan Horrible), one transplanted degenerate (Russ Romance), and their little fairy helper (Jon G of The Feelers), cuz this three day weekend of fast guitar riffs, fat weed spliffs, and good ol’ fashioned liquorin’ up fulfilled all expectations. My only complaint is that it went by too goddamn quick.

The first and third nights were at the Beachland, an old Croation dancehall retro-fitted six years ago into one of the, if not THEE, best Cleveland rock venue. The first night was in the Tavern, a small-ish, intimate bar that comfortably holds about 150. I was waiting on a friend coming in from Detroit, so we arrived late, just as Buffalo’s Trailer Park Tornados was hitting its last thundering chord. I was bummed I missed them and Pittsburgh’s rock n’ roll spazz brigade, Radio Beats, but them’s the breaks and the evening was just getting started. Up next was one-man band sensation Jeffrey Novak and he delivered some goods and then came back around for a second trip. His picking hand clutched a drumstick and he furiously hacked out riffs and cracked the snare, simultaneously screaming his head off and kicking the shit out of a bass drum. Scuzz hate blues done by a young man with the whole world in front of him, ready to hear some pissed-off jams.

Just a few days before, me and Ryan Horrible had ventured down to the wilds of Akron for an early-look at the The King Khan and BBQ Show and The Black Lips, so I knew KK and BBQ were gonna shake shit down. And they did. Pitch-perfect vocals, like disembodied voices from long-forgotten 45s, wailed over thumpin drums and dueling guitars that went from soulful to nasty in the swig of a beer. Khan did his on-stage strip-tease and then rocked the stage like only a drag queen can. Lovely.

Black Lips were up next and this was gonna be my fifth time seeing these miscreants. Gone are the days of shambolic sets. Maybe it was the months-long trek around Europe, but these young guns have developed into a tight and powerful live band. Still plenty of chaos in the air, bodies gyratin, beer flyin, dudes smoochin. Like the kids say, “This is rock n’ roll.” They played a lot of stuff off the received-that-day ‘Let It Bloom’ and some nuggets from ‘…Forest Spirit…’ I think they ended the set with their hurricane ode, “O Katrina,” which needs a release, pronto, cuz it’s been stuck in my head and I need some relief (pun intended?). Psychedelics were exchanged for a personal copy of the not-for-sale LP and some dude was pissed I had one, even though I tried to tuck it under my jacket. Sorry, guy, come prepared next time! The traveling revue came back to the homestead and drinks were drained, grass inhaled, maybe something ended up in someone’s nose. “Hey,” I think I thought, “we’re off to a good start.”

Friday started slow. Lingered in bed with that half-sleep you get after a head-pounding good time has been drained out of you via salty pissings and hacking lungs. Legs shuffled, food took its good old time getting from plate to mouth, mouth moved like molasses, words stuck in the air. Groan. More rock n’ roll coming right up!

Holy Shit this guy is skinny!

Friday’s show was at The Blacklist Art Gallery, a stand alone building on the West Bank of the Flats, where the Cuyahoga runs through. This area used to be bustling decades ago, when the Erie Canal system was running full steam. It’s an interesting landscape, especially as a back drop for a punk show. Kinda desolate and raw, moving bridges, broken bottles. The gallery itself had hosted a few shows and friends had made it seem small. So I was surprised to walk in, up some stairs, and then come out to a huge, cavernous room, two stories, with a few side rooms. The ceilings looked to be about fifty feet, so it felt very open, despite the throngs of punks milling about. Oddly enough, this seemed to be the best-attended show of the weekend. A good 200 people appeared to be there. Because of the aforementioned slow start and an extremely necessary detour for a bottle of Jameson, once again we were late to the party. The crowd was abuzz with the performances of Shoot It Up and Holy Shit!, two bands I wanted to see. So, a good half hour of meeting and greeting and sharing and swigging and lots of, “Did you see Holy Shit!?” “No.” “Dude, they were fucking awesome!” Yeah yeah yeah. Well, Rat Traps were setting up and I thought, “This could be a pleasant set of garage rock.” Zap! No! I was completely unprepared for the venomous hate-raunch that began spewing from the stage, the young Jeffrey Novak pounding the drums and still screaming his head off, sister April on guitar and vocals, and Joe on same, real Southern inhospitable fuck you dirt-punk. On one song (“Tennesee Rock and Roll”, maybe?), April dropped the guitar, grabbed the mic and just started screaming in people’s faces. Yeah! I was starting to wake up finally. But then I got sucked in again, wandering around, giving people pulls (of whiskey, smart-ass), and fielding too many questions of, “Hey man, you got any? You know where any?” Yes, no, maybe. I started feeling like walls were closing in, too much disconnection. A nice walk behind some abandoned factories, a good long piss, and a fat sticky joint, and I was ready for more.

Wolfdowners are Clevo hardcore dudes transplanted to NYC and doing something weirder for sure; almost old-school noisy punk rock in a Flipper vein, or something. Shit, I remember they had a sax and were kind of grinding away on these dark songs. I dug it. Later I heard one of the dudes from Fashion Fashion and The Image Boys pulled the plug on ‘em, power down to zero, but I guess I was too oblivious to notice. Couldn’t give you the details, but that is pretty fucking funny. I will stop to mention that the sound was really good for the most part; I think Lean Steve was in charge and hats off, sir. Next was either Clockcleaner or the Blowtops. I was jawin too hard and didn’t pay as much attention as I should have, but I know Big and Filthy Rich would have these folks sewn up, probably writing it in his head as he watched like a good journalist, so I eased back on the meticulous notes I was taking and decided to clock out for awhile. I do remember kind of zombie-walking around the floor when Blowtops were playing and bumped into someone and was surprised to turn and see it was the singer. He seemed to be half-wrestling a “fan,”, there were a couple dudes on the floor rolling around, and I didn’t really know what was going on. His band was laying down the soundtrack to my earlier walk and I couldn’t put two and two together and I was losing the thread. Maybe I was just too fixated on the dude’s homemade Big Black leather jacket, which might have trumped Timmy Vulgar’s homemade Negative Trend jacket in the Cool Jacket Contest.

Thommy Hawk's ridiculous outfit

OK, time to focus. Human Eye was up next and I knew for a fact that bass player Thommy Hawk was going to be sporting a ridiculous outfit, which is always a good start to any rock ‘n roll performance. It was his homemade Halloween costume: a character from ‘The Warriors.’ And let’s run with that cuz we can: Human Eye is like a gang from ‘The Warriors.’ No, even better: A group of freelance psychos wandering the post-collapse metro wasteland of ‘Escape From New York.’ No, ‘Beneath The Planet of the Apes.’ OK, they are merely one of the country’s premier edge-cutting punk bands and they brought it, harder and faster than I’d seen ‘em do it yet. Drummer Billy Hafer was on fucking fire, pushing the band hard. His playing seems to get looser, louder, and more explosive every time I see them. The crowd seemed entranced, maybe just really fucking drunk, or maybe it was cuz I was really fucking drunk. Regardless, spontaneous fits of dancing were breaking out and people were rocking. The high ceilings really leant themselves to the ping-ponging effects and splatter-guitar of Human Eye, sounding not unlike a hall of mirrors getting smashed. They played some new song that Thommy told me the name of, but I forget. I remember it being more methodical and deliberate, hanging on a repetitive guitar hook. The show was over and I thought that I was gonna be taking the full brunt of a combined Human Eye/Functional Blackouts attack/invasion, in other words, sleeping on the floor and various nooks and crannies in my small Ohio Shitty bungalow. But, the dudes minus Thommy headed back to Detroit and only half the Blackouts were yet in Cleave, so we just had a small get together; afternoon tea really. Tomorrow was gonna be a long one, plus I had to work, yippee.

Saturday began with a day show at Moe’s, an “under new ownership” bar in the no-man’s land of downtown Cleave. Moe’s had already had a few shows, including The Regulations, so the punks were starting to mark some territory. Walking up to the spot at 3 PM on a sunny day, not a care in the world, and we’re hit with looks of shock and awe before we even step foot in the joint. Yes, we had missed the infamous Rot Shit eel-throwing incident. I thought it sounded like great fun, but the owners of the bar didn’t agree and almost put the kibosh on the daytime festivities before they had barely begun. Thankfully, they were talked down from the ledge and the show went on. Some people seemed genuinely pissed at the Pittsburgh punks, which I thought was hilarious cuz they were all kinda small and cute and young. So what if they got something to prove? Maybe they just proved it. I don’t remember much about Fashion Fashion and the Image Boys except they played too fuckin long. Vaguely KBD, vaguely new-school version of good ol’ fashioned snot-punk, vaguely OK, vaguely vague. Admittedly I was pretty hazed. I did see the goofy-ass bass player pop a piece of psilocybin in his mouth whilst sitting at the bar, so maybe that accounted for their epic set. Just gave me a headache mainly. River City Tanlines were after that and they did a nice set of pretty straight-up rock and roll. Works for me. Cider and Kill The Hippies were coming up, but it was getting late and there were things to do and the show at the Beachland was starting early. Hell, I kept on trying to forget that I actually had to work that night. Yup, slugging beer for all the broke-ass punks. Across one room, up a flight of stairs, through the kitchen and then fighting my way through angry dudes and crazy chicks. There are worse ways to earn a buck, I guess. Plus I can drink and walk around and enjoy the show. So, I did.

The Red Menace

Krunchies started off with a bang, flailing and spazzing their way through their electroshock punk anthems. Functional Blackouts came on and blitzed the crowd with some new songs of vicous hatecore. They sound like what getting shanked in prison must feel like. Or maybe just the fried-nerve anticipation of getting shanked. Dreading every mealtime. Unfortunately, the sound was not in the FBs favor, or any of the bands that night. The ballroom at the Beachland, where this final night took place, can be a tricky proposition with the sound. Sometimes it sounds fantastic, sometimes utter shit. The latter was holding true on this night. Part of the reason, in my humble opinion, is that most sound guys don’t know how to mix the kinds of punk rock that most of the bands were playing. Essentially, lots of volume on the guitars, turn up the vocals, but not where they are louder than the music, make sure the drums are crisp, and the bass bouncy, not muddy. Instead, you get metal-style drum mixes (HUGE kick drum), guitars that sound like dentist drills (but not in a good way), buried vocals, and flat, farty bass. It wasn’t helping anyone. The order is escaping me now, but I know that The Feelers rocked hard, careening around the (high) stage, totally in their element. Cuntpuppet was dumb as shit so I chose to stock the beer deep while they played and missed one of them running into the crowd after some heckling skinheads. Now that’s entertainment. Definitely funnier than mic stands and guitars with Busch cans all over them. Or cowboy hats and sub-ZZ Top “classic” rock. Supposedly they’re serious, but only if you spell serious “k i t s c h .” Upstab did their thing, which is not my thing, but certainly provided a flash of danger as the singer hurled himself off the stage brandishing a heavy chain that he slammed on the hardwood floor. OK, OK, you guys are alright. Damn, them Erbas mean business. I was stoked for the Catholic Boys cuz they were one of the few bands I hadn’t seen that I really dig. They didn’t disappoint. Super-tight instrumental interplay like very few punk bands can pull off, almost math-rock in the way they interlock then break apart again, but at the service of really fucking sweet songs full of cool twists and sharp turns, ie. hooks. They played the hits off of ‘Psychic Voodoo Mind Control’ and some friends who wandered over from the show next door asked me, “Who is this?!?” Catholic Boys! By this point, the energy in the sparse crowd was starting to wane, hell it had been a long weekend, but people stuck around for the “big draw,” The Jabbers with Wimpy, original singer of the Queers, standing in for the Geege. I like the old Jabbers stuff, but found this set to be pretty lame. Let them try to regain past glories, what the fuck do I care, I got beer to stock. It was kind of a dud ending to a great weekend though.

After the show was over, rumblings of non-payment and threats of ass-kickings started being heard. Attendance, particularly for the pricy final night, was not up to expectations and some bands were pissed. Ah, the inevitable come-down. Reality is not a punk rock utopia. Bummer. People were not stoked. A few days later I found out how not stoked. Someone stole all the mics from the Beachland Ballroom, over 2000 grand worth. Now that’s fucking annoying, especially considering that the Beachland had NOTHING to do with the paying of the bands. Assumptions can be made, sans facts, but suffice to say, someone out there better at least record a really hot record with those things or you’re gonna rot in the true underground: Hell, bitch!

The last hurrah before another miserable winter. Thanks Horriblefest!

Pics by Jeanie Peaden and swiped from the Florida's Dying website. Thanks!