I finally made it to the Borg Ward on Tuesday, sort of figuring it was going to be a nostalgic experience, where I’d think back to going to the Alumni House in Beloit back in high school, the hallowed grounds where I learned that most of the best music in the world was never going to be played on the radio. Hell, in the case of tonight’s headliner, you can’t even say the band’s name on the radio. I was happy to walk out of there not feeling old, but instead, energized and hopeful; the kids are still up for going to a cheap all-ages show on a school night and moshing the bejeezus out of each other.
Openers Herds surely didn't get the full benefit out of the sound system; they were loud, but the vocals were unintelligible and the guitar chords sloshed together in a stew of noise. Wait, you're saying to yourself: this is a DIY punk rock show, right? It's supposed to sound like that! No, not really; Herds actually had some fairly ambitious tunes that lost most of their impact in the murk, even though the onstage energy was palpable just watching them. Some of it was slop, but I'm giving them the old "potential" stamp of approval and leaving it at that for now.
After Herds, I found myself watching Call Me Lightning for the third time this year, one of Milwaukee's best bands, although I'm not as obsessed with them as it might seem. The group struck me as an unlikely choice of meat in between two slices of hardcore, but CML really gets around, and somehow insinuates itself into shows with the craziest bands around (for instance, the burgeoning relationship with the Israeli garage freaks of Monotonix). Nathan Lilley's voice sounded even more whiskey-scratched than usual, but the band was tight and really going for the gusto instead of exploring the subtlety of its new material, so it ended up being a pretty good fit, actually. A lot of people in the crowd were obvious fans, and the room was getting pretty steamy by the end of the set, even though it was unseasonably freezing outside, and I can't imagine that the struggling Borg Ward Collective was in any position to crank the heat. A sign in the entry room explained that the place was in debt about two grand, and could use any and all donations to ensure that they could keep the electricity on for another month.
I'd heard the records and read enough about Fucked Up to know what we were in for, and the group's reputation for intensity was fully realized in this performance; what I hadn't counted on was the genuine humor and goodwill exuded amidst the violence. The big man up front, Pink Eyes, was shirtless after a couple songs and spent as much time in the crowd as onstage, draping himself in Christmas lights, carrying audience members around and attempting power slides on the dance floor. He has the quintessential hardcore vocal presence and all the ferocity of a crusader, managing to belt out scorching tirades against cops and religious authorities even while being swarmed by a mob of fans. I found myself screaming along to songs I hadn't even realized I knew the words to while fending off one of the most spastic yet benevolent mosh pits I've experienced since the mid-90s. The progressive elements of Fucked Up's sound were eschewed in favor of balls out energy, which was honestly what these fans were clamoring for and the only m.o. that could've worked. I could see faces in this crowd expressing the gratitude that only comes from seeing your heroes surpassing your expectations, and it was impossible not to get caught up in the fervor. Everyone was moving, sweating, making the most of the night.
Pink Eyes had some great anecdotes throughout the night, but it was especially nice to hear him extolling the virtues of the venue and encouraging donations. There are great basement rooms all over the city, but the Borg Ward makes that ethos accessible to even unhipsters who aren't in the know, in a way no other room in our city does. We need this place. Fucked Up has plenty of hype to be playing bigger rooms; thanks for supporting the folks that need it, guys.