Oh yeah, this was gonna get messy.
Welcome to Horriblefest, three days of sticky, stinky, and occasionally scary rock and roll. Bands spit beer on the audience, swung heavy iron chains in its direction, and bombarded it with slimy, live sea creatures. The crowd gladly returned the hostilities, slapping band members in the face, tackling them at the knees, and whipping full drinks at the stage.
Fans and bands alike had to be a little masochistic to endure so much abuse, and one could question the logic of paying to see a show where you're assured of getting showered with insults, saliva, and really cheap beer. But as Horriblefest proved, there's an inherent thrill in getting reacquainted with all the danger and debauchery that rock and roll once promised.
After the fest's opening night at the Beachland, it moved to the Black List, a gritty, high-ceilinged art gallery decorated with cow skulls and mannequins in gas masks. At the show, dudes passed around fifths of whiskey, while ladies stood on wooden benches in the back of the room, watching the fray from above. An early highlight was Milwaukee's Holy Shit!, which blasted out blazing crust punk that knocked the 200-some attendees on their heels. The set ended with most of the band out in the crowd, the shirtless guitarist swarmed by sweaty boys with their fists in the air.
Just as overheated was coed Tennessee trio the Rat Traps, who brought jittery, raw-lunged garage rock that had subtle hooks buried beneath several layers of grease, grime, and perspiration. All the band members had a turn at the mic, screaming, stomping, and stammering until their faces turned red.
Even better was Buffalo's Blowtops, whose dark, organ-laced Birthday Party freakouts sent a chill through the room. The band played in the dark, an appropriate setting for this nocturnal rock and roll.
The next day started early with a matinee show at Moe's Tavern, a smoky, wood-paneled joint plastered with Humphrey Bogart posters, skull-adorned skateboards, and a sticker on the beer cooler that reads "I Love Model Glue." The show got out of hand as soon as it began, with Pittsburgh blast punks Rot Shit starting their set by whipping a live eel at the audience. Tables and chairs also got thrown around, and club owners threatened to stop the show two minutes after it began. Rot Shit played for about another three minutes, shoving crowd members, knocking their beers into their teeth, and quickly earning the wrath of most in attendance. They made a hasty exit. The show ended with the crowd tossing beer cans and Pop Tarts up into the ceiling fan to watch them explode.
Meanwhile, at the Beachland Ballroom, another round of festivities was getting under way. Chicago's Krunchies ground out atonal screech punk while the female singer shrieked like Mariah Carey getting kneecapped.
Cleveland instigators Upstab ratcheted up the mayhem with 25 minutes of terse, sardonic hardcore. Before their set, the promoter warned that if any fireworks were set off, the show would be canceled. Of course, midway through Upstab's performance, a firecracker exploded loudly on the Beachland floor. But the show went on, eventually ending with Upstab's singer hurling himself at the crowd, perilously swinging a heavy iron chain.
And then there was Cunt Puppet. The Kankakee, Illinois quintet was all about beer, tits, and Dale Earnhardt. One of the guitarists played a Busch axe, while the drummer's cymbal stands were made of empty Busch Light cans. But the band's tongue-in-cheek, southern-style rock didn't go over so well after a night of brutal hardcore, and at one point, their frontman ran offstage to chase down a heckler.
The best thing about Horriblefest was watching the crowd and the bands interact, often violently. Sure, things routinely got out of control. But that was the whole point.
"I've seen some shit, but I've never seen any shit like that before," a guy sneered after Cunt Puppet played.
It was a sentiment that neatly summarized the entire weekend.