The Fighting Cocks, Kingston, March 19th
“[i]I’m sick! I’m sick! I’m sick! Sick! Sick! Sick![/i]” Somewhere beneath a 20-strong pile of bodies, Ross Farrar is not so much venting his spleen as squeezing it to the size of a Malteser and letting every last drop of hate and misanthropy drip out. The song is ‘Sick’, a masterful slab of tension-and-release hardcore from Ceremony’s 2010 album ‘Rohnert Park’.
In it, Farrar reels off a list of things that make him nauseous: America, sobriety, television, homophobes, Republicans, liberals, Obama, Buddhism, baptists, atheists, yuppies, mankind, and, perhaps understandably, the sensation of feeling sick itself. Quite the roll-call, but as kids ascend and hurl themselves off the heavy speaker stands that are in place to stop the PA itself being pulled from its moorings and into the circle pit like a house sucked up by a tornado, you get the impression Ceremony’s gospel is finding a receptive flock.
For all this, suspicion has been coalescing around Ceremony these last few months. A big deal for some years in the US hardcore scene, their fourth album ‘Zoo’ just landed on Matador, a label more known for its indie-rocking. It also marks a change of pace, the tempo of their punk charge tempered somewhat. Have Ceremony “gone indie”? Well, not exactly. ‘Citizen’, powered by guitarist Ryan Mattos’ ‘Pink Flag’-gone-psychobilly riff, and the fist-punching ‘Adult’ – a gritty meditation on ageing, spat out through crooked teeth – might work a little more with melody, but they still have a twist in their gut.
In a room like this – a somewhat grimy rock pub in London’s suburban outskirts, with anarchist ’zines given away gratis at the merch table – it is always going to be the old stuff that has the kids bouncing off the walls. But even as Ceremony unveil the new songs, they have a presence that’s totally compelling. Farrar barrels out into the crowd, eyes a-bulge like a feral Johnny Rotten, while the band hammer out lumpen caveman rhythms and bloody-knuckled riffs.
There is no sense here that punk rock could be improving, or offer a path to a better life. There is just vitriol, and anger, and the knowledge that smashing your body against other bodies to the sound of loud, ugly rock music offers some sort of release. And it does, still.