It’s hard to believe that the great Post-Punk (or rather post-post-punk) explosion of the early 2000s was nearly ten years ago. It seemed like every band wanted to add jagged Joy Division rhythms, a deep baritone, and slick Cure guitars to their sound. And who wouldn’t want to include that? They’re good tricks that add great power and depth that all moody rockers want ultimately include in their music. Yet, as last decade moved on naturally the trend began to die and those old timbres that sounded so new started to sound old again. I even myself felt that I moved on from the post-punk sound that was so important for me for the second half of my teenage years, opting more for psychedelia and shoegaze as I continued through my college years. However, on September 12th I saw possibility the best living example today of what it really means to be Post-Punk ten years after the beginning of the trend.
Merchandise played at Home Sweet Home, a small bar bordering Chinatown where earlier this year VÅR made their live debut. I really wanted to see Merchandise at this venue, mainly because I had no idea how it would be in such a small space. Anybody that’s been to Home Sweet Home can recount the difficult journey to the bathroom since it is only accessible across the dancefloor, a poor design choice if you ask me. Yet sometimes bands thrive in claustrophobic places, and if any band would, I figured Merchandise could. Merchandise was born out of the Tampa Bay hardcore scene, which lead singer Carson Cox address when he got stage. “Everyone thinks we’re from Brooklyn” he said, “nobody knows we’re from Florida.” And how could you? Any shred of their straight edge hardcore past makes no real appearance in their music, at least sonically. To me, the “punk” in post-punk was not about sounds, but rather ethos, ideals, and spirit. What the Sex Pistols did, most famously at that hallowed Manchester concert attended my Tony Wilson and the young men who would become Joy Division, was show a generation of disenfranchised British youth that you too could be in a rock band, no matter who you were. But instead of lashing out against the establishment and society, post-punk tended to look inward, exposing their deepest feelings and most tragic thoughts, the most tragic being of course Ian Curtis. However, the members of Merchandise had their time lashing out in hardcore bands and straight-edge ideal, but now they realized that the real battle is within.
Their album certainly lives up to the name Children of Desire. It seethes with sexual desperation. The music whirls and flows mimicking the hundreds of feelings that can go through a person when they make love. Home Sweet Home, despite its flaws, really seemed to be the perfect setting for this type of music, with endless fog streaming into the small space, lending overall mood of darkness and dank.
Merchandise started their set with a strumming guitar and bass accompanied by Cox’s not quite Morrissey-esque vocals. I noticed that almost immediately several females began clutching their chests and looking adoringly at him. They too evidently picked up on the sexuality of his music. After a few minutes of hypnotizing the crowd, Cox kicked on the drum machine and the band went into a rousing version of track “Time.” I was pretty impressed by their set up and overall noise level they produced for being only three guys. The crowd was quick to react and started moving almost as one since there wasn’t any room for individual space. Several of the punks started to slam dance, but the rowdiest of the crowd were very drunk middle agers who would lean against anybody and anything in an attempt to move the crowd as much as possible. As Merchandise continued their set, the crowd fell over a few times in a wave which I hadn’t seen happen in a long time at a concert.
Cox was truly great in his performance. He had a particular ease about him while he was on stage. You could tell that it was his territory. His sanctified stage was briefly disrupted at one point during the show when one of the drunken moshers got up on stage to hump him briefly, but he wore it with good humor. Someone else threw a bottle at him as well, which he cooly dodge and responded with a simple “you missed.” He truly broke the fourth wall when he climbed up on to the crowd and was carried throughout the venue while singing his songs. It was exhilarating punk showmanship draped in the moodiness and depth of post-punk’s sonics. A perfect combination if you ask me. They ended the set with the brooding closer of their album “Roser Park.” As the crowd swayed, they enjoyed every bit of the slow build that led to that familiar riff in the beginning of “Time.” After they had finished for a bit, declaring that they had nothing left to play, Merchandise relented and played one more song even though it ruined the big finish according to Cox.
I walked across broken glass as I moved towards the the stage to congratulate Cox on his performance. As I shook his hand I said “I knew you guys were from Florida.” He seemed to appreciate that.