Concert Reviews

Buzzard and Fanatics at Carioca Cafe

Buzzard and Fanatics
Friday, January 9th, 2009
Carioca Café, Denver
Better Than: A show where everyone is a chin-stroking tourist.

When I finally got to the venue, Buzzard, which was playing its farewell show, had already started its set. I'd unfortunately missed Clusterfux, but the crowd wasn't crazy yet, so I made my way to the front and stood next to the pinball machine and surveyed the mayhem.

Buzzard's music straddled the divide between metal and hardcore. Maybe you could call it thrash, but I'm not sure Buzzard would. The singer/guitarist looked like a guy who used to be in Crimson Haybailer, and his face erupted into contorted shapes with every vocalization. Tim Vigil's deep bass thrums churned the air and crunchy, harshly textured, aggressive rhythms locked in between all three members of the band. I'd seen Tim play in his more well-known band, Black Lamb, many times before, but in that act, his bass lines are fluid and heavy; with Buzzard, they're clipped, abrasive and menacing. The band's music is a soundtrack to urban violence, with rapid-fire bursts in the rhythm section and shards of fire and anguish exploding almost unexpectedly from the act's frontman. Not for everyone, but a nice change in tone from most of Denver's other heavy bands.

Fanatics closed out the night. Good thing, too because they're a hard act to follow. The set opened with "Greed," and the band laid into its music with a vengeance. It reminded me of all the great hardcore shows I got to see around a decade ago, when people played punk rock less as a fashion statement than as a way of life, and sang about things that had more weight and sincerity rather than just whining about one's pitiful love life. Fanatics were pioneers of the grind/crust sound that came out of hardcore, and with every song, it proved the continued relevance of that music when done properly. And the band certainly unleashed and exorcised the frustration and anger of many people in the crowd on this night and channeled that energy into sheer passion, vitality and joy.

The songs "Brainwashed by Stupidity," about dealing with Nazis in the scene during the late '80s and early '90s, "Recognize the Foe," about waking up to who's really oppressing you, and "Questionable Existence," with its exploration of the seeming futility of so many of our lives in this society, were all incredibly energizing songs. But each was also a template for how punk rock can be politically conscious without being preachy or uninspiredly topical. 

The brilliance of the performance overall was how you could enjoy it on any level you wanted to--the visceral rock, the emotional catharsis and/or the intelligent social commentary. The song that inspired many a person in the crowd to jump around like a maniac was a particularly fiery performance of Black Sabbath's "Symptom of the Universe," highlighting how hardcore certainly has some of its roots in heavy, working-class rock and roll, speeding it up to match the breakneck pace of the modern world in which we find ourselves.

-- Tom Murphy

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: Smart, exuberant rock music is always welcome.
Random Detail: Ran into Lloyd Arcesia at the show. 
By the Way: Fanatics are based out of Pueblo, though some members live as far away as Denver and Longmont.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.