I am writing this with a left hand broken in two places and a right wrist that is swelling up to the size of a golf ball. That's a pretty good summation of what Not Dead Yet was: exhausting and engaging. Punk fests are often booked to offer something throughout the whole day, but Not Dead Yet did something else. The fest has day shows, evening showcases, and after shows like most every fest, but the quality of the lineups and the breakneck pace at which they're set makes for a situation where you have to force yourself to soldier on because the shows are actually can't miss events. As much as this sounds like a complaint, it is the highest compliment to Greg Benedetto and the Not Dead Yet festival. What does it say about the quality and energy of a punk festival where a person overlooks physical pain to go to a show they know they will be accruing more pain at?
Night Three was my most active one. The first band I saw was Richmond's Cretins. They were a solid band from a city with a very proud hardcore punk tradition. I was a big fan of the demo, and it was a treat to see it played alongside new songs due out on their Meat EP, coming soon on Deranged Records. After they finished, I bolted downstairs to catch Aggression Pact. The band doesn't play a ton, so I knew this would be special. Two of the best USHC scenes in the last fifteen years are Boston and Virginia, and Aggression Pact is a marriage of the two. The product is not to be slept on.
Boston's Peacebreakers played next downstairs. This band is very much Boston-sounding in the sense that they capture all of the vitriol, hostility, and abrasiveness the This Is Boston, Not LA compilation perfected over 30 years ago. Next upstairs was Toronto's Absolut. They've become a bit of a sensation as one of the most best and most prolific raw punk bands out right now. In 2015 they released their debut LP Hell's Highest Power as well as a split with Swedish raw punk band Paranoid. The hardest challenge for a raw punk band is to either match or outdo the ferocity played on record, and Absolut's set achieved it, leaving me wondering when I'd see them again.
Back downstairs was New York's Vanity. Their debut LP Vain In Life was my number one punk record of the year. To play pure oi in 2015 is rare, and Vanity are easily one of the world's best right now. In the last few years there has been a surge of fresh shaves coming in trying to play oi and write a hardcore record with higher tuning or a street punk record. Vanity sounds catchy and mean at the same time. Their harmonies and guitar tones are so good. Most importantly, they're authentic. Back upstairs Pittsburgh's Blood Pressure was playing. Their set was both a preview and a punctuation. It showcased new material from an upcoming LP and also punctuated to the audience that Pittsburgh is one of the best scenes in the country right now.
Boston's Aspects of War played next upstairs. They are my personal favorite punk band in North America, and I could tell you a thousand times about their live show and still fail to do it justice. They stack a wall of amps behind themselves and simply attack the audience. One of the prevailing aesthetics of d-beat, going all the way back to Discharge, is warfare. Watching Aspects of War is like being on an actual battlefield: The drums sound like artillery, the vocalist dives and charges into the crowd, and the string section creates a wall of noise that is literally physically oppressive.
Back downstairs fan favorite the Boston Strangler was playing. They've been loved in the hardcore scene ever since their 2010 Outcast demo. They have since released two LPs, most recently last year's Fire. The live show is marked by an energetic performance and catchy lyrics, easily the most fun band to sing along to all weekend. Back upstairs was Ajax from New York, who've emerged as one of the more successful hardcore acts of Brooklyn's highly regarded Ground Zero scene. Their set was an excellent rundown of tracks from their last two releases as well as tracks from their Bleach for Breakfast demo. As much as they've already accomplished and as highly decorated as they are, it is terrifying that Ajax haven't even hit their ceiling yet.
The last band I saw for the evening was Rixe, from France. Interest in oi is greater than it's been in decades, and it's great to see a band like Rixe arise from a place with such a proud tradition of producing quality oi music. Last night Rixe showed that they deserve every ounce of their reputation as a world class oi act and then some. Their Not Dead Yet performance marked the last day of a two-week North American tour that garnered as much acclaim for the stage show as Rixe gets for their records.
With Not Dead Yet Greg Benedetto booked a fest without the old timers and big names taking up space. He took the best of the best across the finest scenes in North America and matched them up with the best Europe has to offer. There are no gambles at Not Dead Yet, no uncertain fanbases or reputations. It doesn't give you time to skip bands or collect yourself. There's no filler.