I will admit, that I suffer through bouts of complacency. Sometimes (especially in the Pittsburgh winter) it is far too easy to go to work, come home, and stay there. It is an easy, boring, unfulfilling cycle. Last Tuesday after a particular hectic day at work, the kind where I would usually race home as fast as I could, turn my phone off, and have a beer until my head stopped spinning, I instead made myself go to a show. You know, those things that I used to do all the time when I was younger, and didn’t need sleep, and didn’t have job to wake up for early the next day.
Though I love some albums and am lukewarm on others, Strung Out has been one of my favorite bands for the last 15 years. From the moment I heard the opening cords to Ultimate Devotion I was hooked. I ran to the record store and bought Twisted by Design and Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues immediately. I was, and still am, blown away by those albums, they will forever rank on my top 20 of all time list. Like all bands that I have loved for a long time, I was super nervous as I was hitting play for the first time. What if it was mediocre? What if it sucked? I should have known better though, the worst Strung Out can do is put out an album that is slightly less good than others. Their latest album, Transmission.Alpha.Delta is a solid Strung Out record. It has the melodic hooks that we all love, the fast, furious music that gets us riled up, mixed with heart and passion. One of the things that I have always loved and admired about Strung Out is that each of their albums has an undeniable sound but also experiments with nuance. You always know that you are listening to a Strung Out record, but one never sounds like the others. Transmission.Alpha.Delta has alternative rock vibe to it that sounds so natural with their other elements, yet in a subgenre that they have not entered previously. The stand out tracks are the opening song Rats in the Walls, which just fucking hooks you and pulls you in and No Apologies which is a bit slower and introspective, which seems to instantly resonate with whoever hears it.
As you may or may not know, singer Jason Cruz is also a visual artist as well as a poet, which should be no surprise as we have listened to years of Strung Out lyrics. There are quite a few songs on here that have killer lines and stanzas that I wish I had written such as, “I still believe a good man better knows his darkness well…I raise a glass to every restless heart and lonely soul / Because these boots were all I ever needed to get me to where I had to go” and “Articulate the chaos and the way to resurrection” from Westcoasttrendkill. And anyone who reads this column at least semi-regularly knows that I am a total sucker for a kick ass song that celebrated shows and being a punk rock kid. The Animal And The Machine is one of those songs, “This song’s for everyone screaming from the pit / We are the soundtrack / We bleed together strong / Nobody here’s pretending that we got this figured out”.
Over the years I have seen Strung Out a few times, the first time, back in ’99 or ’00, in the shitty warehouse we used to have shows in Wilkes Barre. That shitty warehouse was the best place to see any band, especially a band like Strung Out. We were sixteen year old believers in a rundown coal town, pits were always solid, but for that show kids were literally hanging off rafters. As they got bigger I saw them in bigger venues and they always put on one hell of a show. Last week’s show was at an old church in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. A fairly small venue who’s acoustics are far from the best, but the intimate atmosphere is unmatched. I’ll always take a bit of degraded sound quality if the tradeoff is a small show feel. If I wanted to hear the songs perfectly I would stay home and listen to the album, a live show is about the performance, it is about the sweat, it is about the experience.
One of the worst thing about Pittsburgh is that most midlevel bands skip us on their tours. Unless you are a band just staring out and have a contact here or are doing a large stadium tour, chances are Pittsburgh is not on your schedule. Daily I look at tour schedules, scan to PA and am disappointed when it is always Philadelphia.
The 1st opening band, Operation Shutdown, a local Pittsburgh staple gave a solid performance. I would check them out again. La Armada, a Costa Rican hardcore band was next, the crowd that had gathered at 7:45 on a Tuesday evening was not prepared for the aggressive set they were about to experience. Heavy bass lines, infectious guitar parts, all under politically charged growling vocals. Each band member in turn, was doing his best to instigate the audience, get them to move, get them to respond. A few guys, drinking a bit too much, tried to get a pit going, but when there are only 4 of you and you keep just bouncing off one another into people waiting at the bar, you are not starting a pit, you are being an ass.
The crowd started to assemble as Red City Radio started to set up. I have been a Red City Radio fan since 2011 when I reviewed their Dangers of Standing Still for CC2K so needless to say, I was super excited when I saw their name on this show. Their set was everything that their records promise. It was loud, fun, and a dammed good time. The pit formed and started to surge. Within their first few songs the pit was going full force with a solid amount of people screaming along. I was impressed with the amount of fans that were there. An Introduction of Sorts, which was fucking made to sing along to while thrashing in the pit, was the crescendo of their set.
When Strung Out came on the crowd was just getting warmed up. From the opening cords of Rats in the Walls from Transmission.Alpha.Delta there was no lull in the night. The band and the pit were in a fury, feeding off one another’s energy. Strung Out played a cross section of their songs from all of their albums over the years. I can’t even tell you which ones got the crowd most excited because the room was seething with energy and screaming along the whole night.
One of the elements that has always stood out is that each band member’s personality come through I he stage, no one trying to upstage the other. But even with that balance, I have to admit that I am mostly drawn to Cruz. His command of the stage is unrivaled. Whether he is singing in his signature stance (with the mic cord wrapped around his arm with his foot on the monitor) or just pacing the stage, he owns the space. When he is on the stage he is 100% in his natural element, you can’t take your eyes off him. Almost to prove that the stage is his territory, I saw him reach to catch a crowd surfer’s head he thought may crash off the monitor and catch a cup of popcorn (I think it was popcorn) someone through at the stage and toss the rest in his mouth mid song. Showmanship all the way.
Every member of Strung Out gave the show as much energy as a band playing to their first real audience, no choreographed banter, no forced showman ship, just a ton of relaxed conversation, singing, screaming, playing, and energy. It was one of the performances that made me proud to be a part of the punk community. The love, energy, and respect in the room is something that you can’t fake and you can’t force. It is that realness that has kept them relevant for the past 15+ years, it is why most people in that room knew every word to every song, it is why people never see Strung Out just once.
As an older school fan I was super excited for the Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues and Twisted By Design songs. It is amazing how being at this show, listening to these song played live, instantly brought me back to being 16 years old, to the nostalgia and the heartbreak. Sometimes it is good to tear open a wound from the past, to remind you of another version of yourself.
The set ended and the audience still wasn’t done, there was the ruse of them ending the show, but the house lights never went up, so we knew there would be an encore. (I have gone on record about hating encores, if you are going to play three or four more songs, just fucking play three or four more songs. But, they are what they are, and the band probably really needed that five minute breather.) When their set ended, Cruz jumped off stage to speak with a few people in the front, I don’t know if he was thanking them for coming or saying hi, if he knew them or not, if he had invited them or never saw them before. But as a fan, watching the performer that you just paid a fee to watch play music for the last hour or so, come into the audience to thank people for coming, even if he knows them well, is a great sight. To me it shows how we are really in this scene together.
This Strung Out show really took me back to a place in myself I have been neglecting for too long. It reminded me that live shows are as much as party of being a member of the punk community as buying records. That night I had no day job, it was all about this music that makes me feel alive. My voice was scratchy and my ears were ringing throughout Wednesday, just how they should be.
Strung Out is still on tour through out the summer. Check out their dates here.
I also have a few more photos up at Dirty Clubs and Gritty Demos.