La Armada/Pharaoh/Sangharsha/Corrupt Leaders & More at The Sidebar

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, June 1, 2014

You’ll have to excuse me for being a bit late with this review, as going to the first few days of this year’s Maryland Deathfest and then getting sick and missing the last two days of Deathfest didn’t leave much time for writing. But about two weeks ago, I went to the Sidebar in Baltimore to check out a stacked lineup and saw what was easily the best individual concert I’ve been to this year. It’s what happens when several touring bands end up in Baltimore on the same night, and instead of being booked on competing shows across town they end up on the same bill with some cool local acts. With a night filled with great performances it seemed like this one was over just as it began, but it was filled with plenty of standout moments.

Note: I usually put all of the bands on the bill in the article header, but this time around there were a few too many to fit so I’ve just listed the touring acts and will talk about the local support below.

Dopecopper opened the night, and they’re a local band I’ve written a good deal about on album but not live. Their Sadistic Intent EP made an impression with its heavy hitting crust punk, and I had seen the group live before a few months back at Sidebar where they delivered a great performance. The crowd wasn’t that big at this point at the night, but that tends to be a typical problem for whoever goes first at Baltimore shows as the bulk of the audience always seems to get there a few hours after doors open. Dopecopper didn’t let that stop them though, as they played with just as much energy as the previous time I had seen them. While I do like the way that Sadistic Intent was recorded, crust punk of this type continues to be music that I think is best experienced in a live setting as the instrumental work hits harder and having the vocals right in your face adds quite a bit. Now that I’ve had the chance to see them twice, I can say that this group puts on a consistently intense performance and though they do seem to thrive in slightly larger crowds where things can get rowdier even in a smaller setting it packs a punch.

The next local on the bill was Enemy Insects, another band that has been around for a few years now and has been a regular addition to plenty of shows in the Baltimore area. Their overall sound takes elements of hardcore, grind, and thrash and throws them all together into an unpredictable mix that varies from song to song. I’ve seen a couple of articles make some comparisons to Soilent Green, and the more I think about it the more this seems to fit as Enemy Insects has a similar way of transitioning from faster blasting sections to slower grooves that instantly grab your attention. Vocalist Nick Baldwin had great stage presence, as in between screaming his head off he was running around the crowd trying to get things riled up and there was also a good deal of stage banter in between songs. Since Baltimore has so many bands that are currently active in the metal/punk scene these guys were another act that I hadn’t caught live yet before this evening but had heard plenty of good things about, and it seems like their reputation was well deserved. Enemy Insects is a band I want to check out again soon as they have familiar influences but manage to have some distinguishable elements of their own, and their set was a lot of fun to watch.

Canada’s Corrupt Leaders was a band I had come across during some random Bandcamp exploration a few months back, and they had the crust punk sound that I like so much mixed with some much slower, sludgier sections. I was excited to see that they were on this lineup, as it gave me the opportunity to check them out in person and hear these tracks in a more intimate setting. Although the crowd didn’t go quite as crazy as I was expecting during the faster parts, Corrupt Leaders brought the level of intensity to the table that makes me absolutely love this style of music. Their set was fairly quick but had a great balance between all-out ragers that hit hard with a wall of sound and bottom heavy slow sections. Lead singer RF has a raspier scream that adds extra bursts of intensity to the group’s material, and he definitely looked like he was using all of the energy he had throughout the course of the set. I would’ve liked to see Corrupt Leaders play just a bit longer as their songs stuck with me, but I understand that they may have been pressed for time with the sheer number of bands that were performing that evening. Hopefully they come down this way again, as I could see them building a loyal fan base in this city.

One of my friends that helped to book the show had told me about Sangharsha, a New York based hardcore band whose members are all originally from Nepal. At the core of their sound is the familiar blasting and sludgier hardcore that has become fairly common these days, but where Sangharsha stands out is their transition into surprisingly softer moments. That’s not to say that the heavier moments don’t have arrangements that will stick with you, but I wasn’t expecting the transition that happened about three quarters into the set where the wall of sound suddenly gave way to sweeping melodies that had more of a post rock vibe than hardcore. The crowd seemed equally stunned as well, and I loved the way that the band was able to transition from extremely aggressive and in your face to material over to tranquil and calming soundscapes that put you into a dreamlike state. It’s a mix of just about every type of music that I like, and made the performance one of the highlights of the night. I also haven’t even mentioned yet that all of the vocals are screamed/sung in Nepali, which also helps to give the songs a different feel. I had the chance to chat with the majority of the band and they gave me their latest release Bayou which hasn’t left my car stereo since the show, and I’m already ready to see them perform again.

I’ve wanted to see New Jersey’s Pharaoh live for a few years now, as A389 Recordings sent me the band’s This House is Doomed EP back in 2012 and it was a crushing piece of sludge and hardcore. This concert finally gave me the opportunity, and they did not disappoint. What’s different about Pharaoh when compared to some of the others out there is that their songs skew towards the longer side, as the band prefers to space out their slower riffs and build up to extremely heavy climaxes that have a darker, downright intimidating sound. It was a change of pace from what the rest of the groups had to offer but definitely made an impression on those who stuck around to watch, as the darker riffs and sheer wall of sound is amplified live and completely entrances you. Vocalist/guitarist Rich Bukowski has a higher pitched scream and while it did get drowned out in the mix during certain part of the band’s set, it always seemed capable of breaking through the noise at specific moments. Pharaoh takes the traditional slower chugging sound and brings it to its darkest possible level, and their live performance is razor sharp and ready to completely tear apart your eardrums. The band has been quiet in recent months but will be releasing new material via A389 later in the summer so I suspect it won’t be long before they’re back in the area.

As you can probably tell, I enjoyed watching all of the bands on this bill up to this point. La Armada was set to be the final group of the evening, and they were another act that I had been waiting to see for a few years. This hardcore punk band is from the Dominican Republic originally but now lives in Chicago and writes all of their songs in Spanish while focusing on social and political issues. Despite how much I enjoyed the other bands, La Armada really took things to another level and tripled the amount of intensity in the room after only one song. Not only were the riffs and vocals razor sharp and in your face, but the audience instantly erupted into a mosh pit. I’m used to seeing pits at the Sidebar where the vocalists of a band get involved (which was the case here), but it’s rarer to look up and see the guitarist come flying directly at you without missing a single note in the process. This was one of those sets that seemed to come to an end only minutes after it had started, as La Armada’s sheer level of energy and fast paced hardcore was jaw dropping and had everyone moving. I know I tend to overuse the word intense when describing live performances from hardcore/punk bands, but it really fits in this situation as these guys were one of the best sounding live acts I have seen in this genre all year. If you have a chance to check them out definitely do so, and don’t expect to be able to stand still.

The show seemed like it was winding down at this point but my friend Travis, who owns the Sidebar, managed to sneak in a last minute and short set from local Baltimore punk band Endless Bummer before the night was over. All three members had been in attendance for the better part of the night and I think they were borrowing some gear from other bands to do this set, but it was a fun way to end things. Their overall sound is very familiar punk rock with harsher vocals, but they do it well and do the earlier variants of the genre justice with their songs. I think they only played three or four songs but those in the audience that stuck around were happy to see them play, and it was a nice surprise for a stacked show that was filled with top notch performances from all of the bands.





La Armada-
Corrupt Leaders-
Enemy Insects-
Endless Bummer-

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