Live Review: Cro-Mags – Manchester

Album Review: Cro-Mags - 2020 E.P.

Live Review: Cro-Mags – Rebellion, Manchester
2nd July 2024
Support: Devil's Henchman, Broken Jaw, Skabs
Words: Dan Barnes

Manchester’s Rebellion Bar has been attracting the top names in the hardcore scene recently, with Madball and Sick of It All already having trodden the boards here in the past twelve months, it’s now time for another of New York’s musical institutions to show us all exactly what they’re capable of. But before Harley and his crew devastate the venue, they’ve laid on a three-band appetiser, just the whet the whistle.

It's an early start for Liverpool’s Devil’s Henchman but they waste no time in bringing the old school thrash to the party. Heavily influenced by Slayer, these four-lads aren’t afraid to stretch their musical muscles by including a hefty beatdown, or a series of bouncing grooves. Theirs is a modern take on the genre and it feels just updated enough to present in an interesting and novel way. Ripping solos stand shoulder to shoulder with those grooves and the band’s tight delivery is made all the more impressive when it’s considered the drummer was given five days to learn the set. A great opening salvo to the night.

Gloucester punks, Broken Jaw have had a long journey to make for tonight’s show, though the chance to share a stage with Cro-Mags must have made those miles quickly disappear. To call Broken Jaw punk is to understate their performance somewhat, as they mix all manner of metal and hardcore into the sound. Every member of the band – barring the drummer – finds their way into the crowd during the set, with the pit being given over to become an extension to the front of the stage. At one point the guitarist and bass player form a circle pit around a young lady, all while hardly missing a beat. There’s a honest plea for merchandise sales, before a new, funk-laden tune is introduced for the first time. There are times when the stage is almost empty and I can’t remember seeing band members spending to much of the in the since Murphy’s Law at Rebellion Festival last year, or when Baby Godzilla opened for Gallows at Sound Control back in 2015.

Bury’s Skabs’ time with us seems all-too brief, and the combination of doom and punk undercurrents in the music, overlayed back ferocious and caustic vocals goes to show that here is a band with plenty to say and I made a note to myself to check them out further. Dirty, grinding guitars and tortured vocals couldn’t mask the complexities of the material, which I’m looking forward to getting to grips with, in the near future.

By his own admission, Harley Flanagan has led a colourful – and less than saintly - life, but when the NYHC legend won his legal battle in 2019 over the use of the Cro-Mags’ name, it sparked a whole new period of creativity, seeing the first new album in two-decades and even a follow-up EP emerging close behind. It’s a smaller crowd that one might expect, but what it lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for in sheer energy and unadulterated respect for the Cro-Mags, and Mr Flanagan himself.

Without those dark times, the band would probably not be who they are today, and Harley pays tribute to the band’s storied past by choosing a set that visits all albums, except 1993’s Near Death Experience. Of course, as you would expect, half of tonight’s songs come from the seminal debut, The Age of Quarrel, including opener, We Gotta Know, Show You No Mercy and Malfunction all appearing early in the set. World Peace further animates the front of the stage and raises voices and fists.

Before that are the three newest tunes in tonight’s repertoire: No One’s Victim, From the Grave and 2020, with each having meaning hidden in their titles, representing Harley’s drive to succeed. A technical issue gives him time to address the crowd and gives the room a chance for a breather; “I talk shit” he tells Rebellion, before a chant of “Cro-Mags” fills the room. His comment that he gets mistaken for Flea of the Chili Peppers was pure Harley, and indicative of his newfound outlook on his life.

Following Best Wishes’ Down By Not Out, he takes time out to state how blessed he feels being able to touch people’s lives through his music and, that at fifty-seven years of age he treats every day with a new sense of positivity. While he’s not entirely proud of his past – read Hardcore: Life of My Own, his warts and all autobiography for further details – he has learnt from it and that makes him try to be a better person ever day.

It's the sort of positivity endemic in the hardcore scene, but so rarely laid bare, and with such brutal honesty.

These Streets and Apocalypse Now, from two of the band’s less celebrated records, show how Cro-Mags developed over time, leaving only Hard Times to finish the evening in a fist-pumping, chest-beating fashion.

Another marvellous night of NYHC at Rebellion, where Harley took the time to recognise the sad news of Sick of It All‘s Lou and his recent diagnosis of an esophageal tumor, imploring anyone able to contribute to the online fundraiser looking to pay for the treatment. Demonstrates that the music might be hard, but the hearts are caring, and the hardcore family is just that.

Now, all we need is for Agnostic Front to come to the Rebellion Bar and that’ll be almost the full-set of NYHC.

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