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Live Review: Hippie Werewolves at Herman's Hideaway

Hippie Werewolves, Old Man Stu, Assault Monday, August 18, 2008 Herman's Hideaway There was a time when the notion of mating rap with metal seemed vital and groundbreaking. At first, there was an admitted novelty factor attached to hearing unlikely collaborations between disparate acts like Run DMC and Aerosmith or...
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Hippie Werewolves, Old Man Stu, Assault Monday, August 18, 2008 Herman's Hideaway There was a time when the notion of mating rap with metal seemed vital and groundbreaking. At first, there was an admitted novelty factor attached to hearing unlikely collaborations between disparate acts like Run DMC and Aerosmith or Public Enemy and Anthrax (or even Slayer and the Beastie Boys, if you count Kerry King lending his riffage to “Fight for Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”). But, soon, thanks to firebrands such as Rage Against the Machine and Downset, the form evolved into a valid and compelling vehicle for social commentary.

As time wore on, though, the style stagnated. Sagging its drawers and rocking a backwards baseball cap, the music became twisted into a knot of unwavering bravado and misogyny, which ultimately diluted the potency of the genre’s progenitors. And now some fifteen or so years later, with perhaps the exception of Satellite-era P.O.D., the whole idea just seems trite and ill-conceived.

Rap metal is now deader than disco -- as it should be.

Back in the day, there was no shortage of trend jumpers locally. It seemed like everyone around here tried their hand at rapping at some point or another. In fact, I vividly remember frequently seeing shows at places like the Wreck Room or Market Street Lounge and watching them devolve into rudderless freestyle excursions with members of other bands indiscriminately hopping on stage with one another. While the sense of camaraderie was heartening, looking back now through a sober lens, it’s also a bit laughable, like seeing a picture of yourself in all your awkwardness from your sophomore year.

During this time, however, there were a few acts who not only pulled off the hybrid believably, but seemed poised for greatness. Hippie Werewolves, originally known as Free the Werewolves and who emerged around the same time Rage surfaced, most definitely stood at the head of that class. And like Rage, the Hippies tapped into an inherent sense of hostility and distilled their fury into vitriolic invectives wrapped in infectious grooves. Only the Hippies took it one step further by marrying the flower-power idealism of ‘60s counterculture to the scathing exhortation of militant activism. Or, as the outfit so elegantly proclaimed at the end of one of its songs, peace, motherfuckers!

Of course, no one can be angry forever. So after burning brightly for a number of years, the Hippies eventually burned out and changed their name to Johnson, in effect softening both their approach and their sound. But for a short window of time, the outfit was among the most volatile, incendiary acts on the scene.

And last night, as the members reconvened at Herman’s Hideaway for the first time in well over a decade, it was like the last fifteen years never happened. For the better part of an hour, the Hippie Werewolves – older, a little rounder and with notably less hair – did a masterful job of transforming the place into the Broadway or Alibis or the Wreck Room, places where the group was a staple. Manhandling the crowd with a verve seldom seen these days, frontman Haylar Garcia summoned the trademark ferocity that once drove tracks like “Federal Offense,” “Peace Terrorist” and “Big Mind Fuel.” Garcia’s performance was bolstered by the original members of the Hippies – guitarists Bryan Dennis and John Scott, bassist Dani Harrison and drummer EJ Worden – who themselves haven’t lost a step. The band was as passionate as ever, which is probably the most stunning part.

Although considering the occasion that brought the guys back together – to pay tribute to Angellic Rage’s Paul Vee, who was murdered in cold blood last month and who’s killers have still not been found, even though the incident was captured on video – it’s not surprising. The injustice of Vee’s death undoubtedly fueled any latent hostility, as evidenced by “Fear the Beat,” a new song the Hippies unveiled last night in honor of their fallen brother, which contains the lines, “Everything you ever wished, ball up your mother fucking fist/and drop that shit like it’s concrete.” In customary Hippies fashion, though, there's also a bit of optimism tempering the proceedings: "So say it with me, P-A-U-L, for those who took him/Tackett's bookin' you a gig in hell/Brother Vee, I know I'll see you, that's the idea that lets us accept this precious farewell."

By the time the Hippies finished, I was spent and pulled the plug on myself. The fact that I’d been up since 5 a.m. and had to turn around and wake up again in a mere six hours, coupled with a slowly developing headache, certainly contributed to that decision. I just didn’t have it in me to stick around to catch Assault, who had also reunited for the occasion. If the group sounded even half as good as the Hippies and Old Man Stu (Julian from Dogs of Pleasure’s new band, who opened the show), I’m confident it was my loss. Luckily, David Barber stuck around for the whole show and took some great shots, which are posted below.

-- Dave Herrera

Critic’s Notebook

Personal Bias: From my early days in the scene until now, Haylar and I and the other cats have become great friends. Even so, I was fully prepared to clown the dudes, you know, break their balls a little. Honestly, though, I walked away from the show shaking my head in disbelief. I guess I forgot how just how powerful those five guys were back in the day. Random Detail: It was like a high school reunion last night at Herman’s. I ran into some folks that I haven’t seen for at least a decade and others that I’ve simply lost touch with. I’m told that was nothing, however, compared to the turnout for Saturday night’s show at the Buffalo Rose, which featured performances from Horse, the original version of Corruption and Angellic Rage, with original and later members. By the Way: A number of people at the show were wearing shirts emblazoned with a custom logo dedicated to Paul Vee that were available for sale last night. Proceeds from the door and from shirt sales are being added to a fund that’s been set up to help capture Paul’s killers.

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