Updated: Mar 3
One of the hardest things to achieve is consistency. Improvement can be difficult, but it can also be a fluke. Consistency requires so much more effort. I don't know how Pat and Linda Dull manage to be so consistent, but they have a gift for it.
After the Kicking Ass for Artie benefit show was announced, the Dulls soon announced another benefit show for Artie. Party for Artie was scheduled for February 3rd, 2023. It was set to feature the Howling Commandos, Hells Fire Sinners, and the legendary New Bomb Turks, who happen to be the most culturally significant punk act to come out of Columbus, Ohio. However, there was a catch.
You see, vocalist Eric Davidson has been on his own road to recovery for over a year now after a serious bike accident requiring him to have a hip replacement and at least one more subsequent surgery. It has been nearly three years since the New Bomb Turks last graced a stage with their presence, so the anticipation of their return has been gradually building into a bit of a fervor. Unfortunately, because of complications that followed the grave injuries he sustained in that bicycle accident, Davidson lacked feeling in his left foot, making it easy for the energetic punk vocalist to unintentionally injure himself onstage without even noticing. So, to play it safe, the New Bomb Turks were only scheduled to play a small set of four to five songs.
As the show approached, it became clear that the Dulls had every intention of keeping things fresh. Instead of a raffle, like the awesome one they had the previous benefit at Ace of Cups, this time they offered a silent auction, which featured an impressively large collection of historical show fliers, many of which were held at famous venues that have been erased by OSU's prolific corporate expansion. There was also a collection of vintage New Bomb Turks t-shirts for sale to benefit Artie.
The Howling Commandos took the stage first, and for those in the crowd who had never seen this band perform live, it became clear why this band was featured on the bill immediately. The Howling Commandos have never failed to leave me feeling awestruck, and this performance was no exception.
It is interesting how every venue has its own unique sound and how seeing bands in different venues gives you new perspectives. I have seen the Howling Commandos four times at four different venues, and this band's best quality is how they shine in new multifaceted ways every time you see them in a new venue. Of course, the first time anyone sees the Howling Commandos, I am confident that vocalist Matthew Ridgeway ensnares the lion's share of their attention, and with good reason. The man is an indomitable force of nature on stage with a full-bodied voice that can awaken feral shadows and charismatic dance moves that rival Iggy Pop or Mick Jagger.
However, I feel the acoustics at Ace of Cups somehow favor guitarists. That being said, those acoustics are a double-edged sword that can make or break a band. If a guitarist is unpracticed, their instrument is out of tune, or their effects or amplifiers sound muddy, that room will not only broadcast but magnify those shortcomings. Fortunately, for Benjamin Morrison of the Howling Commandos, the opposite is also true. Morrison's performance was thrilling from start to finish as he summoned an entire pantheon of 70s rock gods to embolden sprightly melodies that delivered the most delectable Jimmy Page meets proto-punk vibes. My husband, who is a more studied punk musician, says the nuanced sound that I am trying to describe is reminiscent of The Dicks, and I can certainly see that.
Finally, the rhythm section gives the band its rich depth of sound and driving intensity. Bassist Rory Burns is undoubtedly one of the most reliably steadfast musicians within the scene, making him a critical asset in this band because one must anchor the band's other three members who bring such raw, unbridled passion. I don't know if it was the room's acoustics or the sound mixing that night, but Rory's stalwart basslines didn't resonate with the same magnitude I am used to hearing from him. That being said, as the unsung hero of that band, Burns undoubtedly succeeded in his role, which allows the band to sound imposingly grandiose yet grungy enough not to be pretentious. His moody but often breakneck basslines solidify the band's signature sound without pacifying its otherwise unwieldy elements.
During the Howling Commandos set, I realized what might be my favorite thing about Ace of Cups as a venue. The stage's lighting and position give the audience an unobstructed view of the drummer in most scenarios (at least if you are upfront by the stage like we usually are). Until this particular performance, I never had the pleasure of watching Salvatore Melaragno play in a well-lit room, but he is a vision to behold. I learned in an interview with vocalist Matthew Ridgway that Melaragno counts John Bonham among his influences. After truly witnessing everything he can do behind the kit, this should have come as no surprise. At one point, Melaragno dropped a stick at the tail end of an intensive fill, and the way he managed to deliver such blistering ferocity as he pounded the snare while discreetly fumbling to procure a second stick truly showcased masterful virtuosity.
Next up came Hells Fire Sinners, who suffered the grave misfortune of having to play after Howling Commandos. I can't imagine going on stage and matching that intensity or recapturing that momentum after a set change.
That being said, this band did a remarkable job adapting in real time to the noticeable drop in energy at the start of their set. They handled that situation with adept expertise as they gradually regained the momentum lost in the set change and the sub-genre switcheroo. As they progressed through their setlist, the audience steadily became more engaged. If my main critique is that I would have featured the band at a different point in the lineup, that is a good reflection of the band.
What I love about this band is their blatant refusal to be painted into a corner when it comes to their sound. They allow themselves the space to oscillate between their various musical influences. As we listened to this band in the car while driving to Ace of Cups, we compared them to a highly diverse range of bands, including Alkaline Trio, Queens of the Stone Age, Hank Williams III, and the Misfits along with a few more bands that I can't recall. At times, especially when bouncing from their oldest recordings to more recent ones, Hells Fire Sinners sounded like two entirely different bands.
Still, what I found most impressive about the band's live performance is that they sounded much more congruent without sacrificing any of those potentially influential elements. They do a masterful job of synthesis, in my opinion. It is clear that the band has evolved over the years through multiple iterations and lineups. Still, they have managed to make all of the songs written across multiple eras sound remarkably cohesive when performed live.
The band closed their set with a cover of "Just Like Heaven" as their momentum reached its apex and provided me with my favorite metric for gauging a musical act. Nothing proves whether a band has "it" or doesn't have "it," like something going wrong.
I believe that adaptability is a sign of mastery. I was filming the band when the strap on Andy Neff's bass decided to give up entirely, and I was so thoroughly impressed with his response. Neff looked like a total rockstar and a complete badass as he tried to regain control of his now unwieldy instrument. With such passionate zeal, he held his bass up by the neck in one hand and struck the strings with the other while doing his best to keep time with the drummer. When it came to the bridge, where the rhythm and the melody syncopated, Neff hoisted his bass onto his upper thigh and adjusted his posture to flawlessly deliver the bassline that makes that song such a masterfully composed earworm.
Afterwards, I watched the majority of the New Bomb Turks set from the upstairs balcony, which is something I would never consider under normal circumstances. I explore the topic of mental illness at length in this blog. Still, I haven't examined how many of the symptoms I experience are intrinsically linked with and exasperated by my autism. I was already anxious before this show. The kind of anxious that comes on unreasonably strong and without any known or rational cause. I knew relatively early on, with a potential interview with the New Bomb Turks in limbo, that the feeling of terror gnawing inside me was only going to build.
The New Bomb Turks are local legends, and while I am confident they can draw a diverse crowd just about anywhere they play, I know that is exponentially true within the Columbus scene. The scene in Columbus is small enough to have its regulars. At most shows, I am surrounded by friends, acquaintances, and acquaintances of acquaintances. A sea of familiar faces and voices always surrounds me.
I often forget that for many people, hell, maybe even most people, going to a show is a special occasion…and those people behave differently at shows. This isn't coming from a place of judgment; it is just an observation. My brain excels at pattern recognition. But larger, more diverse, and less experienced crowds at a weekend show behave differently than the lifestyle crowd at a Thursday night one. So, my brain sometimes panics when it detects new unpredictable patterns in a familiar and typically predictable place. It quickly becomes overstimulating, which escalates into hypervigilance, and then into overwhelming anxiety. (I promise you; all this detail will come into focus when I talk about the New Bomb Turks.)
If that sounds torturous, I assure you it is. However, it is always a game of endurance, especially if you are a sensory-seeking individual who struggles with overstimulation. I have only been part of the live music lifestyle for a handful of years. I used to be someone who only attended an occasional arena show, or if I went to a club show, I would be a wallflower at the back of the club. On the other hand, my husband has always wanted to be right up front at every show. Once I experienced the electricity that can only typically be delivered by proximity, I was instantly hooked on that feeling. The palpable release of tension that permeates the crowd as the band starts is so blissful for me as I am enveloped in a wave of sonic ecstasy.
However, this wasn't a typical night or show. The weather was a seasonably appropriate 10 degrees, which used to be the norm but is becoming less common as we navigate the fallout of climate change. It was too cold to seek refuge outside to decompress when overwhelmed with sensory overload. A friend suffered a relatively minor but scary-looking injury during the Howling Commando set. I was sexually harassed during the Hells Fire Sinners set. Still, the situation was so bizarre that I felt it more manageable to retreat to a different part of the venue rather than struggling to convey what transpired to the venue staff. Everything else about the show was perfection, but a few random variables exasperated my anxiety and pushed me past the level of emotional and physical exhaustion.
So, my husband and I made a calculated decision to split up. He would shoot video and photos from the floor near the stage, and I would do the same from the upstairs balcony, allowing me to decompress a little. I was emotionally obiliterated by the thought of not seeing the New Bomb Turks up close, but we both knew I was rapidly approaching a meltdown. It's my responsibility to take care of myself; sometimes, responsibility requires sacrifice. I was devastated that I wouldn't get to see the New Bomb Turks up close and experience that gloriously euphoric tension release as the first chord of their first song rang out. But I owe it to myself to prioritize my mental, physical, and emotional health.
And this is the part where the seemingly miscellaneous disarray of extraneous information suddenly comes into play because that moment I so desperately crave still happened despite my lack of proximity.
I can't effectively communicate how that might be the highest form of praise I have ever and may ever give any band, but I can certainly try.
Unlike most people in the crowd, I was not a lifelong New Bomb Turks fan. Punk music has only been a mainstay in my life for approximately seven years, and in that time, I have been immersed in its rich history and inundated with 100s of new bands. However, like many punk fans, finding punk became the first step to finding myself and the community I desperately needed all my life. I spent most of my life feeling disconnected from everyone and everything. Once I felt that connection, I began to crave it incessantly.
From my perch high above the crowd, I watched as the band set up their equipment. The crowd was a diverse mix of people who knew Artie personally and many devout New Bomb Turk fans simply there for the show. As the band prepared for their set, the crowd, who were only promised four to five songs, was growing restless with anticipation. Some attendees abandoned the line at the bar, leaving those who remained to look anxiously over their shoulders for any indication that the band's set was about to begin.
As the band took the stage, it was easy to spot my husband in the crowd by the light from our camera rig. Unfortunately, I failed to tell my husband how to adjust the intensity of the LED lamp to still allow for better image clarity without blinding the subject. Eric Davidson, the energetic vocalist, was quick to ridicule him for being a documentarian with a "fancy camera." The crowd laughed, and I couldn't help but smile as I experienced mixed emotions. I knew my husband was feeling very self-conscious at that moment. However, Davidson just gave us the clip of a lifetime, and the music hadn't even started yet.
And with the introduction of "We're the New Bomb Turks, we're all the way from Fancy Camera, USA," the show everyone had been waiting for began. The energy in the room ballooned into a vibrant swell as anticipation transformed into unadulterated enthusiasm. I immediately felt that glorious euphoric release of tension as my anxiety melted away. My husband, who was close enough to the stage to catch a glimpse of the setlist, quickly realized that the band had deliberately planned to under-promise and over-deliver, something that should be more common in the realm of live entertainment instead of the opposite.
I appreciated the band's cautious conservatism not only because it eliminated the risk of disappointment while being respectful of Davidson's potential limits with him still recovering from a severe injury and multiple surgeries. From my point of view from the balcony, everyone in the crowd who wasn't close enough to see the setlist was doing mental math while trying to savor the moment. It felt like all of them were counting the songs with apprehensive caution in anticipation of it all ending at any second as promised despite the band appearing to be so flawlessly in form. However, soon the band played its fourth song, a fifth, and then a sixth, with each subsequent song rousing the crowd even more. With Davidson feeding off the crowd's energy, it became abundantly clear that the band had no intention of delivering anything less than a memorable, full-length performance.
When the band left the stage, many in the audience presumed that after more than a dozen songs, there wasn't going to be an encore. The show started later than most due to the assumption that the New Bomb Turks would only play fewer than a half dozen songs. So during this short pause in their set, the crowd began to dissipate as many presumed that show was over. Those closest to the doors quickly vacated as the hour was late and the New Bomb Turks had already far exceeded their purposefully limited expectations. However, it was relatively easy to see from the balcony that the band was having a quick check-in with their vocalist before continuing.
I made my way downstairs to join my husband and friends on the floor by the stage right by the stage as the second wave of their set started. The last handful of songs felt like the aftershocks that follow a substantial earthquake, still powerful enough to fully register on the Richter scale but not at the same earth-shattering magnitude as the previous wave of seismic activity. It was clear that those who remained were more than satiated, but were still graciously awaited to hear more. The setting suddenly felt far more intimate and the remaining handful of songs, while less electrifying, were still energizing as the band played a little looser for the slightly more relaxed crowd.
For someone who had never seen this band perform live, I was extremely impressed as were many of my friends within the local music scene, who have scene New Bomb Turks numerous times. All in all, it was definitely a momentous occasion worth documenting and a beautiful testament to the man, the myth, the legend that is Arturo de Leon.
Until next time, stay safe in the pit.
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