Since 1984 – a full three-and-a-half decades ago – Agnostic Front’s seminal debut album Victim in Pain has been considered one of the most influential and highly regarded hardcore albums ever made – arguably the first truly important record in the enormous canon of New York hardcore.
For the 35th anniversary of this groundbreaking album, Agnostic Front did what it's been doing since the group roared onto the scene in 1982: The bandmates hit the road. On Wednesday night, they brought their legendary show to the Oriental Theater.
“We’re here to celebrate 35 years of Victim in Pain,” yelled vocalist Roger Miret, a living legend with an almost indescribable amount of street cred.
The snowstorm that hit Denver Wednesday evening hurt attendance. The room was noticeably light on fans early on. Though it filled in, the room never came close to capacity. But as the bandmates ripped through the title track of the record they were here to celebrate, the meager but enthusiastic crowd moved toward the stage, fists in the air, and shouted the chorus: “But why am I going insane? / Why am I the one to blame?”
Three songs in, guitarist Vinnie Stigma entered the crowd, while Miret demanded fans form a circle pit. As they obliged, Stigma pulled ten-year-old Talon Gosnell from the crowd to dance on stage, and he remained there for most of the show. At one point, Stigma bowed to the young fan. The crowd roared.
Miret, 55, is known for being an energetic, engaging vocalist, and on Wednesday he didn’t disappoint. As the show began, he seemed to take an occasional break during the first couple of songs, squatting in the wings while the rest of the band continued to play. It soon became obvious that he wasn’t resting, but rather stepping aside so the crowd could focus its attention on Stigma and the rest of the band. Miret launched to his feet as the group began the next song and stayed rowdy throughout the night.
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It’s truly awesome to see someone whose been performing since his teens run around like he’s still a kid. Miret may have slowed down with age, but he doesn’t slack when he’s on stage, and he isn’t about to tolerate it from his fans.
“I want to see all you old fucks in the back in the pit!” yowled Miret. “If you know it, sing it with me!”
They did. Halfway through the band’s set, people started jumping on stage to dive into the waiting crowd. Miret and company blazed into Blind Justice, a crowd favorite, with the singer stating rather plainly, “This one is called Blind Justice. Because there’s no justice. Just us.”
There would have been more stage diving in a larger crowd. So few fans couldn’t provide an adequate landing zone, and nobody wants to catch a falling human alone.
Victim in Pain is a short record. With eleven songs, only one of which crosses the two-minute mark, it didn’t take long to get through the classic album. Leaving the past in the rearview, Miret asked fans if they wanted to hear a new song.
“You want to be the first to hear this one?” asked Miret. “I’ll do it if you do backups for me.”
The crowd was on board, shouting the chorus of the new song: “Violence! Violence!”
A couple of fights broke out in the crowd, but Miret and Stigma told the brawlers to chill and everyone soon went back to slam dancing.
“We’re down to our last three songs,” Miret said. “I want to thank you all for coming out in this bad weather.”
Then they tore into “Gotta Go,” and the crowd sang the chorus so loudly it was audible over the band.
On the second-to-last song, Miret yelled “Circle pit! Let’s go!” and the crowed obliged as best it could, squeezing in front of the Oriental Theater's stage. The dancing and moshing continued for the rest of the evening.
After the show, while packing his gear, bassist Mike Gallo talked to me about Agnostic Front’s place in hardcore and summed up his feelings on the 35th anniversary of the album.
“Victim in Pain, it’s an intense record,” said Gallo. “It’s fucking insane. We’re a band that’s never going to stop. We’re never going to stop writing music no matter what people say. I don’t give a fuck.”
Gallo has an interesting point of view on Victim in Pain. He’s been a member of the band for nearly twenty years, but before that he was just a guy in the crowd who loved Agnostic Front and hardcore more broadly.
“Being a fan of that music, like way before I was in the band, it’s a special thing for me to actually play these songs,” said Gallo. “No matter what we do, we’re always writing solid music. But you could never touch the rawness, the originality of what they started. No band can.
“As a band we’re still out here fucking killing it," he added. "We’re putting out solid music, but those songs are just incredible. The raw energy is just intense. It’s so much fun to play these songs.”
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That enthusiasm's something the fans clearly feel as well, as evidenced by the fact that the crowd singing along was as much a part of the music as the band. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect; they just love to get together at the front of the stage, dance and sing the songs they’ve been listening to for most of their lives.
“The raw energy is just so incredible,” said Gallo of the interaction between the band and the crowd. “You listen to Victim in Pain, and it’s just madness. It’s so out of tune. It’s fucking crazy. I don’t have to worry about being in tune to play these songs. In this band, you don’t get a break to tune. It’s just go, go, go!”
Some of the last people to leave the building were ten-year-old Talon Gosnell and his parents, William Gosnell and Shannon Dean. This was Talon’s fourth punk show, they said, adding he shows no sign of losing interest in live music. Visibly tired from more than an hour of nonstop dancing, he paused near the door, leaning his head on his dad.
Asked how he liked his first Agnostic Front show, the boy flashed a toothy smile and gave an enthusiastic thumbs up. This show probably won’t be his last.