Stephen Lewin finds The Shipping Forecast void of answers but brimming with the seeds of essential conversations courtesy of Downtown Boys.
In the UK it is hard for us to fully appreciate the impact the election of Donald Trump has had on the USA as a country.
One could argue that whatever North America does, for better or worse, has marked effect on the rest of the world. Being that we’re part of that “rest of the world”, we are, to an extent, interested in US Foreign Policy, Trade Sanctions, possible nuclear wars etc. But if we take away the sound-bites, the petulant tweets and a lot of talk about a wall, what do we really understand about living in an America under Trump?
Downtown Boys are a Rhode Island punk band whose songs scream out loud what it is like to be a young American living under the current administration. As one of a slew of dates this side of the pond they are in Liverpool tonight, we had no hesitation in braving the fallout from Hurricane Ophelia and trundled down to The Shipping Forecast basement to get some answers.
Opening tonight’s proceedings were Eyesore and The Jinx, an unfortunately monikered local three-piece, who with a throat clearing “heyooop” plow into their opener. Mutant Shuffle is a powerful plod, a Birthday Party-esque creeper that stalks through the crowd with angular abandon. The boys pick up some pace with Gated Community and On An Island, songs shot through with rockabilly twang and post-punk clang.
Apathetic epigrams are delivered with a flippant sneer that would give Nigel Blackwell a run for his money. After a short six song set the the boys shuffle off and, whilst I’m loathe to harp on like Phil Redmond, I have been, once again reminded how great local supports ensure the touring bands bring their A-game to Merseyside.
Ohmns, themselves totally impervious to volume, begin to set up in front of the PA and amongst the crowd, but they are soon pushed back to the stage by the somewhat overzealous sound engineer. This means it’s a good 25 minutes before the metallic motorik of Brown Tear rips the crowd a new one. A combination of savage mid-range frequencies and gut-bustingly low bass propulsion batters the audience in waves.
View From Here comes on like an exploitation theme penned by Mark Arm, whilst Paul Is Sure is all deceptive rattle and reverb before a wall of sludge collapses in on us. As Ohmns depart, the maelstrom of skronking guitars is replaced with the familiar whistling of tinnitus. Whilst I regret not bringing earplugs I also fear that it would have been akin to wearing shin pads to a tank battle.
Protest is an intrinsic part of punk rock and, just as countless bands have copped the look and the sound of ‘77, many have also adopted some sort pseudo activist stance. In a world where the line between counter-culture and fashionable affectation has become blurred beyond recognition, it’s good to see there are still artists like Downtown Boys.
Hailing from Rhode Island, the boys’ (and girls) politicised hardcore takes on topics such as queerphobia, racism and the idea of America as a police state. Their online platform linking activists and artists to fans Spark Mag boasts the strapline “Culture Is A Weapon. Join The Fight”. If this wasn’t enough, to add to the group’s contra-capitalist credibility, their sophomore long-player Cost Of Living was produced by former Rites Of Spring/Fugazi shouter Guy Picciotto.
Tonight they are just as “on message” as one would expect. Frontwoman Julia Ruiz begins most songs with an empowering preamble. “Think of someone you want to say no to and then say no to them for the rest of this song…and for the rest of your life!” she implores before Because You. Whilst the group’s stance is described in most media relating to them as outwardly socio-political, Ruiz’s words are open to broader interpretation. “I wont light myself on fire to keep you warm!” she screams on Promissory Note: a refusal aimed at the state or a lover’s valediction.
The group are also keen to remind people of their heritage. This evening’s set includes a version of late Tejano singer/songwriter Selena’s Fotos Y Recuerdos and half of the group’s original songs are written in Spanish. “Soy la misma, pero llevo otra corona” (I’m the same, but I wear a different crown) they cry in “Somos Chulas” (We’re Cool). One gets the impression that this is done, not as a USP, but as an act of bilingual defiance. They are writing songs of protest for the Latino community rather than for the disenfranchised white middle class.
Sonically Downtown Boys are an intense concoction of spiky guitars, bubbling synth and hardcore yells. Joe DeGeorge’s saxophone barks throughout, giving the songs a Romeo Void edge rather than (thankfully) a ska-punk jump. Although I’m pretty sure the sound engineer was angling for the latter with his Sublime-heavy playlist.
After band smash their way through Lips That Bite, Wave Of History and Monstro, Luiz sets the audience up for the groups finale A Wall. She asks the question “If it’s a wall between two countries or a wall in your head, how does it happen?” This is food for thought which stays wedged behind the molars until long after the sweaty throng have ascended into the night air. Downtown Boys may not have the answers but at least they’ve started the conversation.
Photos by Brian Sayle