Subhumans/Mischief Brew/Dopecopper/Station at Ottobar

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, August 10, 2014

About two weeks ago, I had the chance to go see Subhumans perform in Baltimore. While the British punk band has been around for over thirty years, they had some periods of inactivity between the late 80s and early 2000s. But since 2004 the group has gone on tours fairly often, even releasing a new album that showcased some fairly significant stylistic changes in 2007. I didn’t personally get into their records until 2008, when all of the material Subhumans released prior to their initial break-up was reissued on CD, and ever since I’ve been a big fan. They have come through the Baltimore area a few times since then, but this was the first time I’d had the chance to make it out. I wasn’t disappointed, as the performance was high energy all the way through and I was able to hear material from just about every point in their career.

Baltimore locals Station and Dopecopper started the evening off. While I’ve seen Dopecopper a number of times now and have spent a good deal of time saying they’re one of the better bands the local scene has to offer, Station was a group I had not seen yet. Their name was one I had come across quite a bit, as they’ve been active since 2010 and have played plenty of shows around Baltimore. They were definitely well suited for this particular bill, as their sound is rooted in punk but does branch out to incorporate some metal influences as well. It’s a familiar style and the songs are all fairly short, allowing the band to play a lot of different tracks in a short amount of time. While I do like punk of this type, Station just wasn’t doing it for me and the main reason for that is the vocal performance. The vocals are handled by two different members, one who has a cleaner singing/yelling style and another who went for a distorted growl/scream. I’ve seen this type of split done before, and while the harsher ranges were appealing and fit what the instrumentals were doing I wasn’t crazy about the clean ranges. The majority of the time it seemed like the clean ranges were just the singer talking/shouting as many words as possible in, and they clashed with what the rest of the band was doing. Perhaps it’s just my personal taste, but I wasn’t that crazy about Station, though they clearly had some people in the audience digging it.

Shortly after Station finished their set Dopecopper was up there ready to tear everything apart. Compared to the rest of the groups on the lineup, they were much heavier as their material has a good deal of crust punk influence alongside the old-school punk and metal sound. One of the main reasons that Dopecopper has become one of my favorite locals is that the riffs are distinguishable and hit hard. This comes out even more live, and it’s the type of music that immediately makes you want to run around and start a pit (which I would’ve done if I wasn’t still recovering from a knee dislocation). While the instrumentals come in with catchy, heavy riffs lead singer Grey delivers angry, aggressive screams/growls that are on par with anything else in the genre, and the vocal/instrumental combo works perfectly. However, with that being said I did find that I prefer to see this band play slightly smaller venues. Compared to where I’ve seen them before, Ottobar is significantly larger and this means that the musicians are up on a high stage compared to being mixed in with the audience. Dopecopper’s material seems to have more of an impact when they’re right down there with the crowd and the riffs hit you right in the chest as Grey screams right in front of your face. Again, this is more of a personal preference and the group still sounded great and got the crowd going, but I didn’t find it to be the best set I’ve seen from them.

Philadelphia’s Mischief Brew was direct support for this entire tour, and they’ve played Baltimore quite a few times over their fourteen years together as a band. That was evident from the moment the folk/punk group started playing, as the crowd was immediately singing along to every song. This particular style of folk punk that often incorporates acoustic guitar and cleaner vocals hasn’t been something I’ve always been able to get into over the years, as plenty of albums that fall into this category have come my way and they just didn’t appeal to me. I hadn’t heard much of Mischief Brew prior to this show so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I ended up really enjoying their set. Although they usually end up being categorized as folk punk, the band’s material has a lot more variation than that and they switch things up a bit more frequently than some of the others out there. But what really makes it all come together is singer Erik Peterson. Peterson has a very powerful voice that has a rougher edge to it, and after a song or two I was hooked. Every song really had something different, as Mischief Brew might go for a traditional punk number that whipped up the crowd into a frenzy before following it up with an acoustic ballad. The energy in the room had really picked up at this point, and the fact that the majority of the crowd was singing along and dancing/moshing to each tune really helped me to appreciate my first encounter with these guys. This particular branch of punk may still be one I only listen to occasionally because I’m not usually crazy about the vocal styles or find a lot if it sounds the same, but Mischief Brew is clearly going to be an exception to that and I think it’s time I hunt down some of their recorded material.

I was actually a bit nervous to see Subhumans, as sometimes once you’ve been listening to albums from 30 years ago and then go see the band decades after the material originally came out they can’t do it justice. It took one song for that worry to completely disappear, as they had just as much energy if not more than a lot of younger acts I’ve seen recently. The instrumental work was all spot on and they never missed a note, and lead singer Dick Lucas still sounds just as intense and in your face as he does on the band’s records. Subhumans played a wide range of material, including quite a few of the songs I had been hoping to hear like “Subvert City” and “Religious Wars.” It felt like they were able to capture a little bit of every phase of their career and present it in a live setting, and the crowd absolutely ate it up. I had to retreat towards the back of the venue and watch from a safe distance as the size of the pit had doubled in size. Believe me, I wish I could’ve been in there to rage along with all of these classic punk songs but recovering from a sports injury is a hell of a thing. Anyway, the group was clearly giving it their all from one song to the next and while they did delve into some of their more recent ska punk the majority of the set was focused on the fast paced numbers from their 80s material. Since discovering Subhumans through the reissues in 2008 I’ve regularly thrown albums like The Day the Country Died into my stereo, and it was exciting to see so many of those songs performed perfectly right in front of me. The energy level stayed at a high for the entire time they played, and based on this set I’d say that these guys are able to outperform bands half their age.





Mischief Brew-

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