After years of toiling in hardcore obscurity, definitive Bay Area “power violence” band Ceremony is on the cusp of international recognition and (relative) mainstream success. From their smashing debut—the appropriately titled Violence Violence, 13 songs in 13 minutes—through 2010′s redefining Rohnert Park LP, Ceremony has been recognized for their decidedly artful approach to lo-fi brutality. Over the past 8 years, Ceremony have jumped from label to label, releasing 2 LPs and 4 EPs in the process. Now, after signing to indie powerhouse Matador, the music press is finally taking notice. The more “mainstream” jump is a move that diehard fans, such as myself, view with equal amounts of excitement and skepticism.
The new record—Zoo—is due out next month, and has already received press for its stylistic change. The lead single, “Hysteria” (featured on our January Mixtape) finds the band channeling new pop and experimental sounds, a move that I was initially less enthused by. Despite my apprehension, I was still exceedingly excited for their February 4th performance at Le Poisson Rouge. And they didn’t disappoint.
Upon arriving at the Bleeker Street venue I see signs noting how the show was sold out- Le Poisson Rouge holds 700 standing. Luckily, I snagged my ticket long in advance. After grabbing a limited release show poster, I lined up with the best of the waning NYHC movement. Within the time of arriving and merchandise scouting, the show room doors had swung open and birthed 500/700 drenched-in-dedication fans looking to rejuvenate their lungs before Ceremony took stage. I capitalized on this moment to go find decent spot for a better live experience, especially having missed the opening acts (sorry, Pissed Jeans).
It was an easy squeeze for me to make it up front stage left where I had planned on spending a few short songs to nab photos. The people around me were already swinging fists and spiting beer on each other, I acknowledged their presence, pointed to my camera and started to mention I’d only be there for a short span. Before finishing the sentence my ears were met with the dissonant chords of “Violence”. I turned my attention to the stage just in time to receive an accidental right hook by a hyped fan stage diving.
The air was thickening with hate as the anxious crowd pulled and pushed in every direction. After the quick face jab I ducked down and squeezed back out of the chaos. Readjusting my clothing I scrambled to an upright position further back just in time to see the boys blast into “Hysteria”. The crowd went nuts, the floor opened up and everyone was now in a huge circle pit. The song performed live was untouchable; I was absolutely floored. In a live setting, “Hysteria” thrived with a 3rd dimension that the recorded production sorely lacks. It wasn’t too long after that when Ceremony started getting heavy into some older tracks.
They plowed through an abundance of songs off Violence Violence, nailing every little nuance. A quarter of the crowd had left the stage after joining to scream some lyrics from “It’s Going To Be A Cold Winter” and another oldie; so the boys were then able to treat us to a new song. Yet to be heard or released, the new song blew me away again. Continuing on the sounds they explored on Rohnert Park, these new tracks fall a bit closer to conventional punk, not necessarily in a bad way. I encourage you to see their new material live before making snapshot judgments on the hard pressings.
After the new debut the song selection grew better and better. Mid-set the crowd again joined in to help sing the popular cover of Red C’s “Pressure’s On”. Together, the crowd and the performeds digested the agreement of anti-societal importance just in time for a transitional face melt to the raw punk sounds of “M.C.D.F.” Ceremony, at this point, is really feeding into the crowds energy. Every song the stage is again swarmed with fans emerging from the pit. Whatever vocalist Ross Farrar threw out, the crowd threw it right back. They blasted through some more classics such as “My Hands Are Made of Spite”, “Along”, “Kersed”, “Terminal Addiction” and “ He God-Has Favored Our Undertakings”.
Ceremony ended the night with “Lines In My Forehead”; at this point Ferrar is his usual half shirted, mic-wrapped-around-neck angry self. (If he didn’t have his shirt off by then I can guarantee the bombardment of admirers would have left him that way anyhow.) The crowd was now louder then the amplified instruments all screaming, “Shake the earth head through floor!” in unison. It was a chilling moment to share such a profound lust for the lyricism of Farrar with 700 other beating hearts. After seeing Ceremony live you walk tall, can fully breathe and annihilate any task at hand. They are able to produce such an energetic performance you will feel no other show can compare- and your future findings will mostly be correct.
Contrary to my early skepticism, their performance of “Hysteria” and the other new songs pressed me to revisit the track. After scooping up the 7” on my way out, I have been unable to spin much else. Kudos, Ceremony you’ve done it again. This show really excited me for the release of Zoo, and Ceremony’s mini-US and UK tours in support. Find the nearest city to you and treat yourself to a night of hardcore which will propel you into a blunder of emotions.
Nicole Pettigrew is a sound engineer and photographer in New York. Keep your eyes peeled for new FP content from her in 2012.