SICK OF IT ALL + Madball + Wisdom in Chains @ Le National

By Josh Mocle - The Kids Are So-So - 02/03/2008

Normally when reviewing concerts, I discuss the bands in the order they performed. However, in the case of the Sick of It All headlining show at Le National on February 3rd, I find it appropriate to start off with discussing the headliner and working in reverse since absolutely none of the bands on that relatively well put together tour would have existed in their current incarnation if it weren’t for Sick of It All.

As the houselights dimmed, the oversized siren bulbs set up as stage decorations turned on and the sound of air raid sirens blared out; the band took the stage with an energy and motivation that surpassed the much younger bands that had preceded them that night. While I’ve seen many “legendary” bands in my time, I somehow suspected I was in for something special this time. After all, not many bands of any genre (especially within the hardcore scene) can proudly declare that they’ve been around for twenty-two years without, as singer Lou Koller put it, “any of that reunion bullshit.” Usually, when a band has been around that long, their age begins to show (Metallica, who have been active only two years longer, is just the most obvious example of this).  However, for the first time while seeing a band full of certifiable old farts, I honestly didn’t notice. While the old adage that “punks age extremely well” may be accurate, apparently hardcore kids age a helluva lot better.

About halfway through the set, Koller declared what he saw as two major problems with being around as long as they have: too many songs to choose from and the new crowd not knowing how to dance like the old crowd and the old crowd being unable to dance like they used to. However, one problem I kept coming back to was one he failed to mention: originality. Yes, the members of the band are still indisputably at the top of their game, however, at this point there are tons of bands who are also at the top of that same game. While Sick of It All helped to define east-coast hardcore in the late ‘80s, unlike breaking up or burning out like some of the other Godfathers, they kept going even after tons of bands formed in order to recreate and expand on their style. As such, even though I had never seen THEM until that night, I still felt as if I was seeing something I had already seen before. Even the Wall of Death (which they fucking INVENTED, despite what many Aiden fans might think) came across as old hat and cliché (and if you aren’t sure what the Wall of Death is, think “Braveheart in a mosh pit” and you should get the right idea). While most of the crowd was blowing their load over hits like “Built to Last” and “Rat Pack,” I found myself getting increasingly more bored as time wore on and eventually left before the set was over. That may either be my age showing or an indication of a recurring trend of the originators becoming cliché by association. For the record, I hope it’s the former.

Madball took the stage prior to Sick of It All and to be honest, I was not expecting much. I may be in the minority (as I’ve met people who don’t even like hardcore who like Madball), but try as I might I have never been able to get into that band, and that night was no exception. Their distilled, metal-tinged hardcore is not only boring (although I will admit, their older, more legit hardcore anthems were pretty good) but the band themselves seemed to have a definite lack of energy. While it’s not uncommon for the crowd to have more energy than the band, the level in which the audience’s energy dwarfed that of the band was certifiably absurd. I suppose this says a lot about the band’s place in the history of New York Hardcore and the dedication of their fans, but a “paint by numbers” performance is still a “paint by numbers” performance, and that’s really all I could get out of it. That may just be me though.

Prior to Madball, Death Before Dishonor delivered what no other band that night could: the worst set of the night. The only difference is I was expecting better. Perhaps I was confusing them for another band, perhaps I really wanted to support my Boston brethren, but for whatever reason I really wanted to like them but it just wasn’t happening. It isn’t very often that a band’s attitude ruins their performance, but that’s definitely how it went down. While jocks have been associated with hardcore since, well, forever, somehow on an entire hardcore tour only one band was full of obvious asshole jocks who considered themselves the end all and be all of the entire genre. Thankfully though, the audience wasn’t having it. For those of you familiar with the infamous Brian Posehn track “Metal by Numbers,” this was almost certainly the band he was talking about.

Which brings us to Wisdom in Chains, the first band who performed that night and the only one to earn my admiration, respect and, probably most importantly, my 20 bucks (which got me two thirds of their catalogue. Pretty damn good if I do say so). Ironically, despite singer Mad Joe Black’s constant vocal admiration of the headliners (apparently they were the first band he ever saw), they were the one band on the tour who sounded the least like Sick of It All. Their live performance (and, as I later found out, their recorded output as well) mixed Hardcore and Oi styles flawlessly and they seemed to be drawing from an endless pool of energy throughout their set (which was far too short). It was only toward the end of their set when I may have discovered why and how they do what they do when Black dedicated a song to his two children and declared that everything he did, he did for them. While I could go on about this, I’ll conclude by saying it’s nice to see musicians doing it for more than just the beer and the girls.

Josh Mocle is a DJ, “journalist” and occasional spelunker. He thinks if you REALLY loved this concert, you should probably listen to BridgetheGap with the ineffable Jackie Hall. If not, you should listen to The Kids Are So-So with him and the mysterious Stabby Abby every Tuesday from 2-4 in the PM only on CJLO.