Fronting a DIY hardcore band isn’t for everyone. There are certain occupational hazards, such as dodging spin kicks and defusing a room full of fights, that most people would never willingly sign up for in choosing a career field.
But as the former frontman of Denver hardcore band Fight Like Hell, Joey Chase not only accepted the physicality of the job, but thrived on it, to a certain degree. During the group’s heyday of the mid-2000s, he had a front-row seat to a lot of violence and mayhem. Even now, as Fight Like Hell readies for a one-off reunion concert, Chase can still recall the most chaotic shows like they were yesterday. Of course, those were also the best ones. For example, down in Lubbock, Texas, there was a former-church-turned-hardcore-venue known for its raucous congregations.
“It was this Little House on the Prairie, unassuming place on the outside, but on the inside, it was ceiling-to-floor graffiti,” he recalls.
“We played there a couple times. The most memorable time was waiting to play and getting smoked by these little kids in football outside. I guess even the punk rockers in West Texas can play football,” he says. “Then going in there, and...there were just kids crawling up on the walls. It was an amazing feeling.”
Then there was the “most infamous” Fight Like Hell show in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, hardcore vet Mark Frandsen remembers. “It was a house show in a garage. Picture in your head the typical things you would see in a garage, like scrap wood and old children’s toys,” he explains, adding that bad blood within that local scene began boiling over throughout the evening.
“During Fight Like Hell’s set, I don’t know what exactly happened, but it popped off between basically everyone that was at the show,” adds Frandsen, who currently fronts Denver straight-edge band Time X Heist. “These kids were literally grabbing everything that wasn’t nailed down and using it as weapons against each other. I saw a kid get smashed in the head with a Barbie Big Wheel.”
During the melee, Frandsen led an effort to protect all of the band’s belongings. “We didn’t get involved," he recalls. "We were just going to let this play out."
At the time, Chase decided that stopping the set and calling out the perpetrators would make it worse.
“True to form, we kept playing as it popped off. It escalated to an absurd degree. It was pretty hectic,” he says of his view from the stage. “Finally, we did have to stop. It was getting close to the merch and the gear. I basically had to say, ‘Guys, we have to get involved if you fuck up our stuff, so please don’t fuck up our stuff.’”
He remembers the battery-powered Barbie toy, too.
“It’s an image that does not leave you,” Chase admits, even this many years later. “The guy picked it up, and it has the heavier, battery-motor part in the front, and he took the time to adjust it so the motor was facing forward and proceeded to use the heavy part of the toy. … That was an event.”
“Finally, it settled down and people went off to lick their wounds,” Frandsen adds. “It was one of the most intense things I’ve experienced in my life.”
The local group — which also included Matt Schrum (guitar), Andrew Memphis (drums), Joel Memphis (guitar) and Anthony Hruza (bass) — officially called it quits in 2008 and hasn’t regularly stirred up audiences since. But that’s going to change during this year’s annual Colorado Hardcore Toy Drive show at the Marquis Theater tomorrow, December 15, when Fight Like Hell will play Denver for the first time in fifteen years.
Mindforce, Direct Threat, Time X Heist, Wide Man and Eyes of Salt are also on the bill for the toy drive. The Squire Lounge, Matchbox, Gold Point, Brutal Poodle, the Crypt and Little Black Church Tattoo are accepting toy donations through today, December 14, and will host raffles. One toy equals one entry, and there’s no limit on entries. Proceeds will benefit the Bread and Roses Legal Center and local mutual-aid organizations. Please do not wield toys in the pit.
Frandsen, who has booked shows since he moved to Denver in 2004, is pumped to have Fight Like Hell back for the event, especially since it’s for a good cause. Andrew Memphis was the reason he moved to town from Albuquerque in the first place, and Fight Like Hell comprised the heavyweights of the local scene back then.
“Fight Like Hell was really the first band to go for it and get a van and just go. They were out for three, four weeks at a time. They were going out a couple times a year,” he says. “They were playing everywhere from New York City to the swamps of Arkansas to Idaho. Literally everywhere, Fight Like Hell played a show.
“For a Denver band, they crawled so other bands in Denver could run,” he continues. “Once Fight Like Hell popped off and kind of got Denver on the map, that’s when people started actually looking at Denver as a place where hardcore bands were coming from.”
Chase and his Fight Like Hell bandmates didn’t mind living in a van at times over the few years they were active. Ambition kept it all going more than anything, he says. “On tour, we liked playing really out-of-the-way places, because we had to stop to get to other places anyway, and kids, especially back then, when it wasn’t as accessible, really didn’t have anything, and they were really appreciative,” Chase explains.
But the fervor and energy of hometown shows, how the crowds would get so excited they’d tear the place apart, particularly the ones at [downtown youth center] Sox Place, was really what it was all about, Chase says.
“That was a sacred time, honestly. To be there at Sox Place with those people, those kids, those bands — that was a ritual. That was something very, very special,” he says.
“It was never really about the music," he adds. "It was more about the community and having a chosen family, really. That was like church. I look back at that and I see how powerful that was, how big that was — the effect that it had on everyone that was there, and the effect that it had on the bands that were coming through playing and seeing it.”
Frandsen agrees and points to Fight Like Hell as the de facto house band.
“That was our home. That was where every show that we booked happened. That was our gathering place. That was our world at that time for the hardcore scene,” he adds. “Fight Like Hell was the band that would play there. We had shows all the time. But if it was a show that Fight Like Hell was playing, we knew it was going to be a big show. They played with tons of bands that now play much, much bigger venues.”
It was Fight Like Hell’s “locals-only attitude,” as Chase calls it, that gave the band an edge. He admits there had been some talks about rekindling the group and working on new music, but the members ultimately decided against it.
“The closer we got to this, we realized that’s not worth it. We need to make sure that the set is super tight and on point. That’s really the focus of it,” he explains, adding they’ll try to “recapture” that old-school fury.
Life has a way of naturally smoothing out the rough edges of restless youth. Chase, now a lawyer, considers himself “an official old guy” when it comes to hardcore. Sure, he goes to a show here or there, but the days of being at the center of borderline riots with Fight Like Hell feel like a lifetime ago, he says. Those times are best left in the past and memories. So while “the time feels right for a reunion,” don’t expect any more activity from Fight Like Hell moving forward.
“This is going to be it,” Chase says. “I think it’s a reminder to all of us of our desire to be creative, write music or participate in some way. But Fight Like Hell belongs to a different time and place.”
Fight Like Hell, 6 p.m. Friday, December 15, Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer Street. Tickets are $249.