Rocking the Moose

transcent2small.jpgYou didn’t have to love heavy metal to appreciate the floor-shaking sounds emanating from Claremont’s Moose Lodge last Sunday. The all-day, eight-band concert was impressive for reasons that had nothing to do with music.

The show drew over 200 customers despite losing its headliner earlier in the week. Show promoters (and local Claremont band) Hexerei quickly enlisted their friends Suicide City, a group they’d toured with last year. They agreed to come up from New Jersey to replace Bobaflex, who’d had to cancel due to a band emergency, and plans didn’t miss a step.

In the so-called hardcore music community (or post-core, or metal-core, or post-grunge; it’s inclusive, but with many names), such challenges are common. A DIY spirit, however, always pervades.

For all the pain, suffering and nihilism running through a lot of their songs – Suicide City’s “F**k Your Dreams” was one good example – this is a very optimistic crowd. It’s reminiscent of the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “let’s put on a show” movies, only with more black eyeliner, metal studs and body piercing.

It’s also much, much louder.

These kids may feel shortchanged by their leaders and cheated out of the opportunities their parents had, but they believe in the power of music to transform their lives. They do so in spite of the fact that few will ever succeed enough to make a full-time job of it, and those that do will probably continue to struggle anyway. Adversity feeds their dream that music will prevail.

This attitude helps explain the almost visceral response that greeted Transcent’s performance Sunday. The Newport band made their first public appearance since losing bassist Justin “Buzzy” Brown to a heroin overdose last July. A huge crowd swarmed around them as they surged through a mix of originals and covers with precision and unrelenting speed, particularly on a version of White Zombie’s “Thunder Kiss ’65.”

Their emotional set hit a high point with “Truth Serum,” which lead singer Mike Boucher dedicated – “to Buzzy, he’s always with us.” The song exemplified the primary musical hurdle confronting those hoping to follow the path of hyperkinetic bands like Pantera, Slayer and Slipknot – the need for a good rhythm section.

Fortunately, drummer Brian Couitt played ferociously, and in time. The talented band followed him capably on a song with plenty of complex tempo and progression changes.

It was powerful moment, and an inspirational set.

Other bands didn’t fare as well, relying on speed and passion when a little control and rehearsal time would have helped more. Stare Fall played like the house band on a runaway train, with Sam Kinison on lead vocals. Of course, to many in Sunday’s audience, that’s a compliment. A City Divide performed solidly, but occasionally let the song run away from them.

The hip-hop duo LoKei was totally out of place, a situation exacerbated by a late arrival (they were supposed to open the show), which forced them to play while Transcent set up their equipment. Regardless, the notion of two lily-white Keene kids rapping about bling, bitches and mean streets is, to put it mildly, a bit dubious.

One of Hexerei’s biggest assets as a band is its discipline. To the untrained (non-fan) eye, what they do onstage may seem like unalloyed rage, fueled by guitar noise and two screaming singers. But the band rehearses several hours a week with militaristic regularity. Their show Sunday featured selections from a forthcoming album, and they also played a few older ones. “We’ll do ‘I’ because this guy asked for it,” said lead singer Travis Pfenning, pointing to a happy fan.

Suicide City followed Hexerei (no easy task) with a short but potent set, during which every band member stayed in constant motion. It was almost exhausting to watch. At one point lead singer Karl Bernholtz was literally bouncing off the walls of the stage, a turbo-charged cross between Marilyn Manson and the Tasmanian Devil.

Several times during the show, the center of the floor opened up for a version of dancing currently in fashion, an anarchistic crowd-shoving match that resembled a street fight without punches. It was mostly harmless, though one young man ran to the bathroom with a bloody nose during Hexerei’s set.

Many adults barely know this scene exists; its members may sleep in the houses and apartments of Newport, Claremont, Charlestown and Springfield, but they congregate in MySpace, communicate via text message and let loose in clubs like Chester’s Underground, Lebanon’s Electra and now at Claremont’s Moose Lodge.

They believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, in a world of their own creation, populated by bands and fans.

They have each other, and they have their music.

That’s all they need.