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July 3, 2003

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It’s easy to lose one’s faith in hardcore living somewhere like North Carolina. While I’m never really hard up for good music thanks to mail order, the internet and a few good record stores here in town, the good bands all seem to be a million miles away. I think that’s at least part of the reason why, as of late, I’ve grown so fascinated with Japanese music and obscure early 80s hardcore bands. After all, when current bands aren’t rolling through my local DIY venue with any sort of regularity there’s really no difference between a Gauze record and a Tear It Up record sitting on my turntable; they’re both just records, rather than symbolic connections with other human beings with whom I have had significant contact.

However, no amount of vinyl can ever recreate the wonder that is the live hardcore show, and despite the fact that it’s one of the busiest times of my life I decided that I was going to get myself out of town and see some hardcore shows this summer. Tonight I found myself heading to the same building where I’ve seen countless amazing shows for more than half a decade now, the building formerly known as Twisters and 929 but now going by the name of Nanci Raygun. To tell the truth, I think that Nanci Raygun is the best of this building’s incarnations yet; with a much more DIY feel than Twisters ever had and lacking all the stiffness that ruined the vibe at 929, I’ve got my fingers crossed that Nanci Raygun will have a long future in that location. If the shows are as amazing as they were tonight they have a good chance, as when something this incredible is going down word is bound to get around.

The first band of the night was Georgia’s Unpersons. While I’ve only seen a handful of hardcore bands from this state over the years nearly every one has been exceptional, and Unpersons may very well be the best of the lot. I suppose there isn’t a lot to do down there but sit around and play guitar as Unpersons’ two guitar players were both virtuosos, not only pulling off blazing metallic solos but wrenching sounds from their instruments that I could hardly recognize as coming from a guitar. The song structures themselves were a great showcase for these guys’ creativity, as most of their pieces careened wildly between City of Caterpillar-esque progressive screamo and Cave In-style space/prog-rock with some catchy, chunky Nirvana-style power chord bits thrown in every once in a while for good measure. If any of the aforementioned styles appeal to you at all I definitely suggest checking Unpersons out, because they’re one of a very few abrasive, metal-tinged punk bands (the others would be Neurosis and Converge) that have the potential to appeal to just about anyone with good taste in music.

Second on the bill were a Richmond thrash band that I was excited to see, the strangely-named Are You Fucking Serious? To refer to this band merely as a thrash group is to do them a great disservice; while their brand of hardcore never stops chugging for one second, the whole thing is full of tons of flourishes that make the music totally unique. First of all, the band’s equipment gives them a sound that is certainly their own (mostly because no other band would probably want it); with a batch of equipment that featured practice amps, pawn shop guitars and a microphone jammed into a plastic scythe, Are You Fucking Serious? would probably beg that very question of your average Guitar Center employee, but the connoisseur of vintage hardcore will be intrigued by a certain Husker Du-ish flair in the thinness of AYFS?’s sound. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

Finally, after two amazing sets came the headliners, Portland’s From Ashes Rise. Despite the fact that these guys have built up a very big name for themselves all over the country I hadn’t yet heard more than a few recorded tracks from them, though their intimate connection to the His Hero Is Gone/Tragedy/Deathreat scene clued me in that the band were probably going to play heavy, slightly melodic hardcore and that was indeed the case. Coming off like the perfect combination of the three aforementioned bands, From Ashes Rise take the melodic lead guitar from Tragedy (without playing that gimmick to death like Tragedy does), the pummeling rhythms of His Hero Is Gone and the old-school hardcore intensity of Deathreat to forge a sound that would no doubt appeal to fans of all three bands. While their live set didn’t quite get the emotional response I’ve heard that Tragedy can draw out of a crowd, there was a ton of dancing and a crowd full of smiling faces when the band finished their set.

With three bands playing totally unique and individual styles and all three of them being completely awesome, my belief that 2003 is one of the best years for music in ages has extended its reach to cover not only the pop punk and power pop scenes, but the underground hardcore scene as well. Sure, there will always be bands all over the world content to copy what’s come before, but tonight’s show proved that there is more than enough quality hardcore out there for those who are willing to look, and with incredible bands like these just waiting to be found, you can be sure that I’ll be looking as hard as I possibly can.

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