The Return of American Nightmare Is A Return To Their Primal Roots REVIEW: AMERICAN NIGHTMARE @ THE ECHOPLEX | SXSW 3/10/18
LOS ANGELES, CA- I asked my friend if he was going to go to the American Nightmare show at the Echoplex.
“Nah,” he scoffed, “I used to see those guys play in Boston a long time ago. It wouldn’t be the same with all those L.A. kooks.”
This tends to be the general disposition of people who grew up in the Boston Hardcore scene. They have their almost mythical legends who need to be seen in their natural element, not showcased to a bunch of yuppies. American Nightmare has earned their position as one of these esteemed bands– although their influence has far exceeded Massachusetts. Fronted by Wesley Eisold (Cold Cave), they released their first demo in 1999 and have taken a handful of lengthy hiatuses since then, always returning to their ever-loyal fanbase. Perhaps it’s a case of assuming the next time they see American Nightmare may be their last time, but people always reach unprecedented levels of apeshit at every show. After approximately five years of the reunion phase, American Nightmare is actively touring to promote their newly released, self- titled EP. Their recent set at the Echoplex–fronted by Eisold, alongside guitarist Brian Masek, bassist Josh Holden and drummer Alex Garcia-Rivera, and touring guitarist Jim Carroll– gave great promise to what the band will deliver next.
American Nightmare has an exceptionally interesting history. After a tedious and lengthy battle with some band from Philadelphia over the rights to their name, the band switched to Give Up the Ghost in 2003. Eisold has eluded to his belief that Give Up the Ghost represented a less raw version of the band’s full potential.
“In my mind, that represents the end of the band: Getting fucked over and having to change the name and then having to pick something that doesn’t necessarily fit the identity of the band we knew it as. The name American Nightmare represents the beginning of the band to me and why I wanted to play this music. It represented the violence that was the first year or two of the band, an emotional outrage. Give Up The Ghost felt a bit more subdued to me—more of that 2000-2002 era. American Nightmare just feels timeless.”
American Nightmare regained the rights to their name a little over a year ago, allowing them to release new music in February under their original namesake with Rise Records. Despite the hiatus, American Nightmare didn’t skip a beat in regards to consistency in their visceral yet minimal style. American Nightmare gets back to the band’s primal roots while showcasing their progress as a unit who has weathered a tiresome storm to come back swinging with fervor.
I’m not going to lie– I was expecting a crowd full of stone-faced tough guys and an abundance of toxic masculinity. The hardcore scene typically isn’t the most inviting, and Boston hardcore is typically even more elitist than most. Contrary to my expectations, there were no egos running rampant and the vibe was refreshingly inclusive. The lineup itself reflected this inclusivity, which boasted the reggae infused hardcore power group Fireburn and feminist, vegan, straight edge thrash band Torso. Death Bells of Sydney, Australia nicely complemented the roster with their post-punk simplicity and pronounced Robert Smith influence. San Francisco’s Spiritual Cramp held it down with some classic, slurring, party punk. Although every band had a vastly unique sound, the lineup was meticulously curated and well-balanced.
If The Cure and Joy Division had a baby, it would be Death Bells. They opened the evening with their despondent pop ballads, integrating fuzzy shoegaze with a melancholy sad boi aesthetic. Although their vibe was dominantly morose, their playful riffs and whole-bodied synth added a layer of catchy optimism, exceptionally rounding out their performance. They were followed by the rough-and-tumble Spiritual Cramp, who keenly resembles a grittier Clash. I found their highly animated tambourine player to be a unique touch to their abrasive sound. Singer Michael Bingham delivered manic energy with reckless abandon, swinging all of his limbs carelessly and shooting off wayward remarks with transparent honesty:
“This one’s about doing drugs.”
“This next song is about being poor, not havin’ no fuckin’ money, and being an outcast.”
“I’m a crazy person, but I don’t even care anymore. I’ve realized people like it.”
The comment that stood out to me the most, particularly because it was so effortlessly poignant, was:
“Things might get better… but maybe they won’t. Whatever. It’s not like you’re alone.”
Bingham delivered the word alone in a borderline patronizing tone, almost as though he was daring everyone in the room to get over themselves. I found myself deeply appreciating his candor even though it was directed to me as well.
Fireburn was the next band to take the stage. The anticipation was tangible, as this is a super-group comprised of former members of legends such as Bad Brains (Israel Joseph), Danzig (Todd Youth), and NAILS (Todd Jones). I’m not partial to reggae on a good day, but this unique hybrid accents the rebellious nature of the genre, all the while jacking it up on steroids by blending it with scathing hardcore. Their energy was contagious, to the point that I completely forgot my biases. Fireburn is faithful to reggae while simultaneously drawing people in who may not otherwise choose to be exposed to it. I highly suggest everyone sees them at least once in their life.
Next up was Torso, who serves as a testament to the whitehot tenacity of women within the hardcore scene. The Oakland, California quartet sticks to their guns and delivers a highly political set surrounding a vegan, straight-edge lifestyle in which self governing is key. Their front-woman prowled the stage like a shark and commanded respect that she rightfully deserved. The band was unsparingly fierce and served as the perfect set to play right before the headliner, warming up the pit to a simmering frenzy just in time for American Nightmare.
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American Nightmare began playing about fifteen minutes earlier than their scheduled set time. They cut off whatever Morrissey song was playing in between bands with little to no shits given, and hit the ground running. Nobody had any complaints as they had been waiting hours, if not years, for that moment. I had seen American Nightmare once before at FYF in 2012, and the energy of their crowd was just as palpable as it was almost six years ago. I’m sure the same kinetic verve was present at their early shows in 2004– and even when the band was operating as Give Up the Ghost. American Nightmare fearlessly steps to a timeless legacy that will shove hardcore onward and upward; everyone who has ever experienced them live can attest to the fact that they can and will continue to shake the scene to its core.