Ghouls with Guitars Take on the Right
It’s Dio de los Muertos, the Latin American Catholic holiday set aside to pray for the souls of the departed in purgatory, and Lyndon Street Artworks has the feel of George Romero’s 1968 horror flick Night of the Living Dead.
A concert here by Crimson Spectre and their friends Boxcar Bertha, along with a night of what co-owner Lowell Bridger calls ‘“Bush-bashing films’” at the Scene on the South Elm, culminate a day of protest against the Bush administration and the right-wing agenda ascendant in America.
The free show is part of a day of activities for the World Can’t Wait campaign in Greensboro, a national effort to halt the Bush agenda through various tactics described as ‘“no business as usual.’”
The warren of artists’ studios at Lyndon Street Artworks once served as a heater and air conditioner factory, and the rough concrete floor, open garage door and loading dock still give it a comforting industrial feel. Soft blue couches are arranged around the perimeter of a gathering space sectioned off with partitions made of wire mesh and painted sheets of corrugated tin.
The horse sculpture near the entrance, which is fashioned from items that include a Honda 175 motorcycle gas tank and seat set up near the entry, is the first clue that this is no ordinary rock club. The glaring fluorescent lighting and the fact that there’s no bar around clinch it. A sculptor couple work in a back room at a drafting table and artist Erik Beerbower walks through with a tray of coffees.
One of the sculptors, Ernest Rich, steps out to smoke a cigarette on the loading dock, where Crimson Spectre bass player Scott Trent is also tending to his nicotine habit. Rich, a shaggy-haired guy with a satellite county drawl, holds forth in tones of wonder about an emerging scandal involving allegations that former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed, a buddy of indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, has taken payments from a Louisiana Indian gambling operation in exchange for rallying his grassroots Christian forces against another tribe’s efforts to get in on the action.
Trent, dressed in a frayed red sweatshirt and a T-shirt reading ‘“Wanted for Mass Murder’” that displays the mugs of Bush, Cheney, Rice and Chertoff, debriefs with a huddle of punk-styled activists about the relative success of the day’s activities. There’s a feeling of exultation in the air about the recent troubles of the Bush administration.
Boxcar Bertha runs through a set of amped folk-punk indictments against police brutality, homophobia and other quality-of-life threats. By the time they conclude, a crowd of about 40 people huddles around the stage area in anticipation of Crimson Spectre’s performance. The class-conscious punk band has a new split CD out with the ecologically themed thrash band Uwharria, and the camaraderie of the collaborative effort coupled with the events of the day appears to have created a mood of good cheer.
The guitar player known as Crimson Chris dons a pair of black and purple bat wings and a silver hockey mask. Bass player John Rash’s face is painted up in streaks of black and white for ghoulish effect. The singer known as Dave Spectre, who wears his blond hair in a tightly-cropped military cut and sports a sleeveless Ramones shirt revealing shoulders covered with tattoos, paces the floor.
Crimson Spectre’s churning musical attack suggests scarcely controlled violence, but the good humor of the between-songs banter with their fans sets that aesthetic off against an atmosphere of generosity and bonhomie. The singer swings the microphone by its chord like a lasso and catches it before screaming out a chorus. The two guitars players and bass player careen around the front line of the audience and wield their instruments like axe murderers. But never do they strike any of the spectators.
Dave Spectre’s vocals tend towards shrieking when he isn’t turning to the lower registers for a guttural growl more akin to heavy metal than punk. Trent’s guitar approach also nods to old-school metal in its use of a flailing lead technique that hearkens back to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. While he plays, Dave Spectre makes a wiggling finger gesture that feeds off the wild energy of the machine.
Perhaps the band describes itself best. A manifesto entitled ‘“Undead Proletarian Hardcore’” posted on the Crimson Spectre website suggests that the band speaks for ‘“’horrorists,’ the proletarian army of have-nots (ninety percent of the world’s population) who are condemned by global capitalism to a state of economic living death.’”
Crimson Spectre employs a ‘“ghoul-punk aesthetic’” to ‘“draw attention to [a] collective political nightmare and to articulate it in a highly stylized and accessible form.’” They align themselves with ‘“a dissident aesthetic most visible, in this country, in the horror films of the past 30 years, where ‘— to quote Lenin ‘— the ‘Aesopian language’ of zombies, cannibalism, chainsaw massacres, monster babies, demonic possession, and hockey-masked serial killers has provided allegorical embodiment for social critiques and political analysis otherwise considered too volatile for the pop-culture arena.’”
Dave Spectre tells the audience that the band generally avoids talking about their politics between songs, preferring to let the lyrics speak for themselves. But the occasion of today’s campaign to drive Bush from power appears to require comment. Since hardcore punk lyrics at a live concert can be indecipherable to all but the most committed fans, it’s helpful.
‘“While we didn’t support as a band the attacks on the World Trade Center, if you do f**ked-up s*** all over the world, people are gonna come back and haunt you,’” the singer explains.
The song is called ‘“The Inherent Contradictions of Imperialism.’”
And with the first raw chords, fury has the hour.
The song begins with the lyrics: ‘“They dropped the planes/ Right out of the sky/ And we had the nerve/ To ask them why/ Smoldering rubble/ There is your proof/ That pissed off chickens/ Come home to roost.’”
And it ends with the sardonic lines: ‘“They say the economy needs a boost/ Those Arabs just love their neck under our boot/ Halliburton is making off with all the loot.’”
To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.