On December 29, 2011, Revere, Mass., a scrappy town orbiting Boston, felt like the centre of the universe. Nearly 1,000 travellers — most hailing from the eastern regions of Canada and the U.S., though some from as far as Europe — packed Club Lido, a 600-capacity local venue. Scalpers salivated, with $25 tickets marked up to rent-cheque levels. Smartphones buzzed with live updates, citizens’ YouTube vlogging and by-the-minute set list updates. Rumour had it Ryan Gosling was on hand, with blurry photos allegedly capturing the Drive star’s stage-dive attempts.
“I don’t even like the band,” a Toronto-based punk rock promoter told me, “I’m here for the spectacle.”
And that spectacle, as it turns out, wasn’t Ryan fuckin’ Gosling. Nor was it the parade of punk-rock celeb-types — ’sup, Jake Bannon doing merch? — ringing the stage. They were here for one reason: A hardcore show. Specifically, American Nightmare’s first show in half a decade.
“Who?” asked a nearby transit security guard. American Nightmare, I tell him, and they’re Boston locals. “Never heard of ’em. They must be some kind of hot band now, huh?”
Nope. If you recognize a single member of the band, it’d be black-clad, one-handed singer Wes Eisold, who’s better known now for his work with Matador Records electro terrorists Cold Cave.
But those 1,000-plus people weren’t here for Cold Cave — or any other current band. They were here for American Nightmare, a band whose last release, We’re Down Til We’re Underground, was released in 2003. (And whose seminal work, debut LP Background Music, is a decade old.)
But if you believe the audience — which overpowered Eisold’s singing on most tracks during the band’s hour-long set — you’d think the band was seminal.
Thing is, they’re not. Well-loved? Sure. Seminal? Hardly.
Rather, American Nightmare was a gateway band. A hardcore band that defied one-chord chug breakdowns. One that, thanks to Eisold’s grim, near-suicidal penmanship, made anti-depressants chic in punk. One that broke from youth crew’s squeaky clean aesthetic, mid-’90s metalcore’s obsession with political correctness and NYHC’s folded-arm machismo. They, in fact, made it permissible for hardcore fans to wear Smiths tees — no small feat.
In essence, as that same Toronto promoter told me, they were a band for “hardcore kids that were no longer interested in hardcore.” He was right. American Nightmare — an interstitial band, as genres go — was a gateway out of hardcore.
But that’s not seminal. American Nightmare didn’t influence — aside, perhaps, from Iowan bleak-core act Modern Life is War — a legacy of bands. But they allowed their fanbase a path away from a scene: some, as Eisold, dropped out of the genre entirely, applying hardcore’s DIY ethos and fanatic obsessiveness to other genres entirely. Others, still, sought hardcore’s aggression, ferocity and conciseness in other musical pursuits — an undeniable trait in the overblown dance-pop of Cold Cave.
But I don’t think about American Nightmare frequently, if at all. Nor do I mention Blink 182’s Dude Ranch in many musical conversations. Ditto for Chixdiggit. But that I recalled every lyrical scrap of Background Music tells you something: it’s a relic from a time — adolescence — where music mattered on a subcritical level. Where every band was a blueprint for future musical tastes. Where every showgoing experience, every record purchase, every liner note was committed to memory.
Nonetheless, American Nightmare aren’t fashionable. Timeless, neither. Hell, they’re not even ironic. But were they important? If you believe me — or any of the other 1,000 attendees — that’s just a silly question. Viva love.