top crowd energy shows

As I pulled together remnants of memories of long-past shows to do a little post about slam-dancing, I had more vivid recollections of a certain few shows that particularly stood out due to the level of audience interaction.

Here's a short list in no particular order. It's worth noting, dear punk reader, that I bore witness to a number of amazing live performances that are not included below and that's because I'm enumerating the handful of shows I can readily call to mind when I think of goosebump-inducing moments that were a product of incredible crowd energy and incredible band energy feeding off one another.

Marginal Man, COC, Circle Jerks

[editor: I'm surely forgetting someone else in the lineup, if so, my bad]

"Well, maybe he went to get a mohawk
And maybe he went to get some gnarly thrash boots
Maybe he went to go ride his skateboard
Maybe he went to see the Circle Jerks"

Camper Van Beethoven, Where the Hell is Papa Punk Bill

I've established early and often that the most fun I think I ever had slam dancing was at my first few Marginal Man shows in '85, the crowd was friendly and the slamming was, well, civilized. The apex of the slam dancing for me was a Marginal Man, Corrosion of Conformity, Circle Jerks show at Wilson I think(?).

I'm iffy on the veracity but I seem to recall a story about COC not wanting to follow Marginal Man. I don't know if there's any truth to that or whether I'm confusing that story with The Who not wanting to follow Hendrix at Monterey or whatever.

In any event, I will say the real injustice was anyone coming on after Marginal Man / COC in back-to-back sets.

By that I mean Marginal Man got the crowd whipped up in typical fashion and then COC dialed it up another notch with Mike Dean an utter madman spitting vocals, hair flying everywhere. That floor was thick with slam dancers cavorting in reckless abandon and unbridled energy during those sets.

By the time the Circle Jerks played, most of the crowd was so spent from the Marginal Man and COC sets that a lot of us hung back.

Now the slam dancing at Circle Jerks show was legendary at that time, folks spoke of it in hushed, reverential voices.

As it turned out, it was fun to watch and later join in when I finally caught my breath and they started ripping through their early songs. The slam dancing definitely had taken on a different tone, the circle dancing came out in full force and it seemed a bit more violent and edgy - but it still was a blast.

Even more remarkable was the fact that singer Keith Morris performed while sporting a back-brace and tore through the set amid all that bedlam regardless, broken vertebrae be damned.

Beyond the epic lineup, this show left a lasting impression - punks were creaking out of Wilson gasping for breath and acting like we had just completed a triathlon.

Bad Brains at WUST

You had to have been at WUST Radio Music Hall to really get how impressive and explosive HR's entrance was for the Bad Brains show at WUST in '85. The stage is flanked on either side by what seemed like 20 foot walls that ran up to the second level.

The Bad Brains opened the set without HR visible anywhere on stage, I don't recall exactly which song but I'm certain it was a classic anthem like Right Brigade or similar. Immediately as the rest of the band unleashed their musical assault, HR appeared out of nowhere on top of the left wall and vaulted to the stage and upon landing, his dreads and the floor completely erupted in unison, the most awesome show of force I've ever witnessed at a live performance.

this clip from a different show gives you a sense, they're a baaad band!

The incredible opening and entrance ignited the crowd - it was absolutely bonkers for a while . After maybe 20-30 minutes of this ferocity, I swear it seemed like everyone on the floor got gassed, I know I was so wiped by the initial surge that I spent the last few songs watching from the 2nd level balcony and the power and energy from the Bad Brains was still plenty palpable from that vantage point.

In retrospect, this show featured a pretty damn good lineup, including Scream and Beefeater, but the most unforgettable part of the night was the chaos and raw energy shared between Bad Brains and crowd.

Rites of Spring at 9:30 club

"But I woke up this morning with a piece of past caught in my throat

And then I choked."

Rites Of Spring, For Want Of

I was blindsided when I got a chance to see Rites of Spring live at the old 9:30 club. I had heard from a good friend that RoS was a mind-blowing live experience but I had no frame of reference for what they sounded like and what the live show would feel like.

The passage of time has blurred any concrete details from the show until it lives on in my mind as a flow of dream-like impressions. The set seemed to start in pitch black which then exploded in a cacophony of sound and strobing light - the band slowly revealed in disorienting flashes and discretized movements, Guy's face shrouded in hair, eyebrows and interrupted darkness.

For some reason I see flowers in my mental snapshots of that show - in the air, then scattered around the floor of the 9:30, with a few on the stage. You'll forgive me if this image is purely a figment of an overactive imagination.

More striking than the inimitable RoS sound - with mellifluous bass and driving rhythms, the wall of singing and sound from the guitars and Guy's desperate vocals over top - was the interaction and synchronicity of the crowd as it responded to the call of the band.

"Drink deep, it's just a taste and it might not come this way again "(ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh)"

Most of the crowd appeared to know the songs pretty well, even though they hadn't released a record yet, if memory serves. The floor was in constant motion without anyone hitting each other - folks moved loosely around while maintaining space between each other.

"Caught at a distance from myself
and there was no one there to know"

I wished I knew the songs well enough to sing along but the vibe and groove all around me was hypnotic and was easy to fall into the trance. "What could I do?", before I knew it I became absorbed in the undulating mass of the crowd.

The whole affair reached a climax with the penultimate song, naturally, End on End (they performed All There Is as an encore to close the night). Guy was reduced to an emotional clump on the floor as the End on End wound down, his guitar discarded, having been a flight risk throughout the entire set.

The lights were all off again (or so I like to remember it) and save for a steady drum-kick that I wasn't processing because at that point I would've believed it was the collective heartbeat of the throng of people at the show, the only other sound were voices lifting up the wordless End on End melody. "Whoah-oah-oah-oh". Again and again for what seemed like a long time.

Those of us that didn't know the song were quick to join the impromptu chorus. There was subtle movement, but it was like they say in yoga, the breath, the aural consciousness was the movement.

That's the best that I can do to describe an ineffable moment like that one.

"I believe in moments,
transparent moments,
moments in grace when you've got to stake your faith"

Rites of Spring, Drink Deep

The version of the performance that's still kicking around in my head has aged nicely and I prefer it to the live footage that can be found on the tubes as included above for reference.

7 Seconds, Kids for Cash at BCC

Is it somewhat self-serving to include on this list a show that my band Kids For Cash played in? Probably so.

All the same, this list highlights great live experiences taken to another level by crowd intensity and this show remains indelibly etched in my noggin in that regard. Plus it's my list...

Hard for me to believe, but my band Kids For Cash did indeed open for 7 Seconds sharing the honor with fellow Burke punk band PMS who were also on the bill.

 7 seconds flyer

I'm not making shit up, my band really did play a show with 7 Seconds

The KFC performance and crowd reaction were nothing remarkable, notwithstanding the fact that a talented dude by the name of Dave Grohl happened to be filling in for us on drums that evening.

The truth is, we'd played a few shows in the local Burke community center within the past few months and folks were probably developing a little Kids for Cash fatigue, which was understandable.

It's also likely that I was just a bit more nervous than usual as 7 Seconds drew a pretty big crowd including a wider swath of kids from my high school, some of them friends and acquaintances who had never seen the vocalist side of me and I may have been a touch self-conscious about that as well. All those butterflies certainly could have contributed to a shaky live performance. But that's neither here nor there for the purposes of this post.

I should add that this was near the height of the 7 Seconds popularity, they had followed up on their classic record The Crew with Walk Together, Rock Together, which managed to weave even more melody into their hardcore sound. With a healthy dose of positive messages and an infectious 99 Red Balloons cover thrown into the mix, they had broad cross-over appeal.

7 Seconds were like the U2 for suburban punk youth of all stripes, only not quite as big, but you get the point.

And this very same 7 Seconds was playing a show in our little community center in this bumfuck suburb of Norther Virginia! Somehow they hadn't been booked for any shows in DC so this was their only appearance in the DC area that tour.

Well any questions we may have entertained about how a 7 Seconds show would translate in the cozy environs of a community center in BF Burke, VA were quickly put to rest.

From the moment Kevin and band hopped onto the little platform of a stage, they tore the place up and captivated the entire throng. Kevin Seconds had great presence and was a natural at connecting with the audience and making everyone feel a part of the experience, and he was really sincere about it.

The dancing was high-energy and there was a lot of contact but throughout it never felt anything more than just friends and friends-of-friends singing and bouncing giddily all-around em masse. Guys and gals alike were thoroughly drenched with sweat after the killer set.

7 seconds live

Kevin Seconds blowin' up Burke on the mic with his signature eye black, and why yes that is a COC sleeveless T (photo: YAUO)

The 7 Seconds part of the show alone would have rated high enough to get on this list.

So this is the part I'm a little murkier on. I know this moment happened during one of the shows we played and I'm fairly sure it occurred during this show in particular. If somehow I've conflated two different shows, oh well, both these moments belong on the list.

So here's how that second moment played out at least in my head...

I think 7 Seconds had somewhere to scoot to later that night - maybe going clubbing in Dupont Circle but probably not. When they finished their set it was still early, I believe we had the community center for an hour or so longer before we had to shut it down. The crowd was still super amped from the 7 Seconds spectacle and didn't want to go gently into that good night too soon.

So at some point the crowd pressed for more music. I can't remember if PMS did another set before us or whatever but I do remember this crowd of kids actually calling out for Kids for Cash to get back on stage and do another set, which was a pretty cool feeling given that they must have been a little worn out and a wee bit tired of our live act.

When we got back on stage, we were a whole different band and the crowd was a whole different animal. There were a lot of folks singing along to the songs and really getting into it.

We had a couple songs with easy choruses that everyone knew and during at least one of them I burrowed into the crowd and a big circle formed around me, moving around me as I moved this way and that, joining in with a boisterous "ohh-ohh, I can, I can, I can!".

That was a genuine, fantastic moment. All the kids in our local scene transformed our live performance into something truly memorable.

"If the kids are united, then we'll never be divided"

7 Seconds covering Sham 69

Just an old punk that wants to share old stories with other old punks about the scene - before my memory goes completely.