Last night Brooklyn hosted a ripper of a show. I expected tension to be in the air because of the embattled state of headliners Church Whip, but I was met with a refreshing air of resilience and positivity. Well, at least off stage. On stage all three bands thoroughly savaged the crowd who happily relished the sets.
Brooklyn sleaze-metal masters Syphilitic Lust opened the show at Grand Victory. They are a blackened power trio with a dirty, nasty sound that puts them at home as part of a NY metal niche that includes bands like Villains and the recently departed Pollution. It’s impossible not to think of Midnight when confronted with a T-shirt that proclaims “Death to False Sluts” on the back. Drummer William (also of Battletorn) took a shot at the night’s scandal by donning a NO MA’AM tee. I really should go see them more often. We all should.
Up next on the concise three-band bill was Skullshitter a cocksure, aggressive death grind three-piece who clearly endorses Taco Bell’s dollar menu. The bass player dabbled in stand-up between songs, but most likely it was just to give the band a chance to catch their breath during the rapid-fire set. We were told to “drink more beer and fuck” and "happy birthday" wishes were extended to no one in particular. Hijinks aside, the humor was thankfully just a bonus and not compensatory. A band that rips and makes me laugh? I’m sold!
It’s impossible for me to write about headliners Church Whip and not mention the shitstorm they’ve been navigating these past few weeks. A few days before the show, their tires were slashed and “rape apoligists” was spray painted on their tour van in Raleigh, NC.
I spoke with bassist Carson Cox who, as the front man of Merchandise is the most visible in this entire mess, and he was as positive as anyone could be in this situation: “I feel like this is a test, and I’m meant to do it, and as long as none of my friends or anyone I care about gets hurt, it’s worth it.”
They lost seven shows two weeks before they were supposed to start touring. Many promoters stood by the band, but a lot of the DIY venues pulled out, either because they believed the hype or they were afraid of social and scene repercussions. In a few other situations local punks intimidated venues into pulling the shows, still Carson says in all the cancelled cities people voiced their regrets and show their support, noting that they still felt welcome, “It was like being houseless but not homeless.”
The Brooklyn show was one of the early cancellations after the residents of the DIY space where they were initially booked backed out. Thankfully the show and several others on the tour were able to find new venues because the show was simply glorious, but it almost didn’t happen.
Welcome to punk in the online age, where apparently hardcore bands from Tampa need to answer to an aging Brooklyn-based indie-rock record reviewer who clearly feels the need to preemptively punish young up-and-comers in the wake of the still painful Drunkdriver internet-driven implosion. If you haven’t heard about the Church Whip tour scandal you either live under a rock or don’t like heavy music and probably stopped reading this review a few paragraphs ago.
Here’s the short story, and I’ll make it as short as possible because the band and its embattled members deserve better. Church Whip called their tour “Raping the East.” Known record reviewer gets mad and takes Merchandise off his best-of-the-year list because he mistakenly believes that they are going on the “Raping the East” tour with Church Whip when, in fact, Merchandise isn’t on the tour, and instead the bands share members Carson Cox and David Vassalotti. Blogger demands the band start a dialogue with him to ensure reinstatement on his precious "Best of 2012" list because, of course, he is so very important that he gets to punish Merchandise for what he views as Church Whip’s sin. The band replies in an email. They receive no response. Several days later their reply is publicly posted on a website. So much for a dialogue.
They refuse to apologize or change the name of the tour because they did nothing wrong. The internet explodes. Seven shows on the tour get cancelled. Concerned citizens on Tumblr start spelling rape as “r*pe” and say they don’t feel safe at Church Whip shows. Suddenly the whole thing gets twisted in a game of Tumblr telephone and Church Whip are suddenly not only rape apologists but rapists too! Also Church Whip are now fedora-wearing bros making rape jokes. The craziest thing is, the majority of the people freaking out aren’t trolling. Everywhere sane men and women scratch their heads.
You know what offends me about this entire situation as a woman? Not the use of the word "rape." First of all, the word "rape" is not innately sexual or engendered, it is completely dependent on context. Clearly the tour title isn’t about raping women or men or anyone else. CLEARLY. And yet, like so many other web-induced frenzies before them, the voices of a small, misinformed minority grasping for social currency outweighed the sane downplaying of a noncontroversy by the majority. Church Whip's response to the whole thing (in which they explain that it they meant rape to mean pillage or desecrate) should have been sufficient to quell the outrage over the use of a clearly incendiary word, but alas it was not. I sincerely hope this goes down on some angry message-board post as one of the stupidest moments in contemporary punk history. Reading the tour title as anything other than an act of plunder is perpetuating a culture of victimhood for women, something the punk scene is supposed to combat. That’s what is most upsetting and offensive to me as a woman. You really think you’re going to get raped at a Church Whip show? You really think that Church Whip wants you to get raped? Really? For the record, this is what happens to women at a Church Whip show:
They have a great fucking time because Church Whip is a great fucking band. According to one audience member, “This is one of the funnest shows I’ve been to in a while because all the people who complain, all the people who start fights, all the people who respond to things overdramatically, they aren’t here!”
Everyone around him agreed, and they were right. The pit was churning but free of assholes clearly burning to make a point. It was a lot more sparse than it could have been, but no less lively.
The sparseness of the pit gave the band ample space to exit the stage and properly terrorize. The set was dense and intense with no breaks in energy or noise. One of the best hardcore sets I’ve seen in a long while. Pity some of the people who would have loved it the most were too fearful to come.
While the crowd was just slightly lacking in density (if this show had been scandal free, it would have been packed), it lacked nothing in enthusiasm. Church Whip deserves better because they are better.