THE MORE YOU TALK, THE LESS I LISTEN:
If you haven’t been paying attention, Los Angeles band Scowl might be one of the most important new bands in hardcore right now, alongside their contemporaries Drain, Zulu, and of course, Gel. The group’s 2021 release, How Flowers Grow, ushered in a new audience that might not have paid much attention to the genre before, with their breakout hit “Bloodhound,” – a minute and a half of chaotic yet no-bullshit hardcore. The band has toured relentlessly, hitting the road with some great lineups, as well as playing some really odd shows (the opening slot for Limp Bizkit’s summer 2022 comes to mind immediately, as well as a slot at the once historic but now dead/canceled New Jersey festival Bamboozle).
The band followed up in 2023 with Psychic Dane Routine, leading with the single “Opening Night.” The track featured Kat Moss’ clean vocals front and center, a sound that Flowers only hinted at. While she generally sticks to her raspy snarl on the rest of the EP, the song has seemingly already surpassed the popularity of anything they’ve done prior.
Cut to sometime in April 2023, Scowl’s September 29th show at Brooklyn Meadows sells out immediately. Several days later, they added a surprise second show at the legendary Saint Vitus Bar on September 30th, which also sold out immediately. I was lucky enough to make it to both shows, thanks to my crippling addiction to my phone and a constant need to follow the local scene. This is a band on the cusp of mainstream recognition, and a moment for fans new and old to catch the band before they either blow up, or fall flat in a new market. I’m betting on the former.
Just a quick note, we’re going to breeze past the opening bands here. Despite headlining this run of shows, Scowl is on the road with some odd choices, some of which I probably would never have gone out of my way to see otherwise. Shoutout to the openers for doing what they do (and to the folks who really did seem to dig it), but we’re here to talk about Scowl.
NIGHT ONE – September 29, 2023: The Meadows
Hours before showtime, train service to Brooklyn is being suspended on multiple lines as flood warnings start to plague my phone. The venue starts emailing ticketholders to plan for travel, and to release their ticket back onto the waitlist by 3pm if they’re unable to make it to the show. NYC declares a state of emergency.
So without hesitation, I make my way down to The Meadows, cause there is no way I’m missing this show. After some travel complications, I get there at 5:30pm. Doors aren’t open until 6pm, but there’s already a line of soggy, but undeterred diehards gritting their teeth in what’s left of the afternoon rain. But fans trickled in slowly and the opening band played to a half empty room, which is wild for a sold out show on a Friday night.
In the case of Mother Nature vs. Scowl, it seemed like Mother Nature was winning, but sometime between the second and third bands of the night, the air became thick and suddenly the room became claustrophobic. This is the sold out crowd we were expecting, riled up from the shitshow that is NYC mass transit in poor weather.
Scowl takes the stage after cueing up their intro music (“The Girl From Ipanema”) and the first order of business is to start a fucking riot. “Bloodhound,” for as short as it is, is 50% stomp and hype up. The Meadows, for those unfamiliar with the venue, is generally a lawless sort of establishment, and the pit opens up and the crowdsurfers start flying. One of the beautiful things about Scowl is their audience – hardcore punk is young, diverse, queer, and angry. This is their outlet. However, their mosh etiquette is tame compared to the Millenials in the crowd, who seem to be hoping that a good kick to the head will qualify them for medical leave from their job, or at least a few days of PTO.
The band seamlessly moves into “Shot Down,” “Fuck Around,” and “Dead to Me,” all but ensuring that anyone who simply wants to watch the show with their arms crossed will get shoved around, whether they like it or not. The room lit up, While the openers were very divisive, everyone found their purpose now. To be clear, the band wasn’t actually winding up and encouraging this rowdy behavior – at one point, Kat slows down the set and reminds the audience that while they’re perfectly welcome to, they don’t have to constantly throw themselves at each other. The bodies continued to fly.
Musically, the band is well put together. While I’ve seen Scowl live before, the band turned everything up to 11 for this run. With hardcore shows, it’s so important for the rhythm guitarist and the drummer to be in sync, and the band was on point. No bum notes, no dragging their feet through the fast passages. It’s easy, of course, for vocals to sometimes get buried in a mix like this, but otherwise, I’ve got nothing to complain about. With few exceptions, the rest of the band effectively stood around like statues on stage, watching their own hands. This was Kat’s stage and they weren’t trying to get in the way.
Scowl squeezed 16 songs into just 40 minutes of stage time (including banter), but it was the final batch of songs that really made the night – if playing “Four Walls” was effectively the equivalent of throwing a single lit firecracker into the audience, then “Sold Out” was like soaking the audience in gasoline, and “Opening Night” was a whole book of matches.
Yes, the same “Opening Night” with the clean vocals, and least moshable riffs (relatively speaking), brought out the wildest side of the audience.
Once again, our friendly neighborhood venue blasted a text to all ticketholders – tonight is SOLD OUT, please return your ticket to the waitlist if you’re unable to make the show. Though last night was deeply satisfying, and I am physically bruised, I chose to ignore this text, and commit to a second night of good friendly violent fun and dancing the toxic waltz. I keep in mind that The Meadows had a 500-person cap, Saint Vitus is literally half the fucking size, with a 250-person cap.
The room fills up as quickly as I had anticipated. At this point, the rain has settled and the trains are running. Some of these folks were at The Meadows last night, but there’s a lot of new and eager faces. If I had to choose between these two shows, I’d absolutely pick the Saint Vitus date. Unfortunately that 250-cap covers both the main room and the bar, and we can’t all fit in the main room, that has never stopped anyone from trying to squeeze in.
The temperature continued to rise as folks piled in for Scowl, and once we were sure we were making a measurable contribution to global warming, the band took stage. This was an identical setlist from the night before, yet it landed differently. There’s no hiding at Vitus – and from the opening stomp of “Bloodhound,” nobody was safe and nothing was sacred. The size and intimacy of the room here played such a big factor in keeping the energy in motion.Everything about the night felt like we were seeing a massive band in a room too small to contain them, which is the beauty of Vitus. At any moment, someone was going to get hit, someone was going to take a fall, and some stagediver would inevitably get tangled in Kat’s mic cable. I’ve seen bands way too big simply choose to play intimate shows at Saint Vitus, everyone from thrash metal kings Anthrax, church burners and occasional murderers Mayhem, to gothic royalty Lacuna Coil.
This show felt like those did. Even the band recognized it. Kat made a big deal to point out mid-set that this was Scowl’s first time at Vitus, and despite living on the opposite coast, she understood the significance of playing here.
While the only state of emergency after night two is the pain in my head, my back, and the various injuries suffered by a crowd moshing with no sense of self-preservation, the show was Scowl at their best. They fed off the energy of a small room, and the audience gave it right back. There’s a good chance they’ll never play rooms this small again.
- Shot Down
- Fuck Around
- Dead to Me
- Psychic Dance Routine
- Petty Selfish Cretin
- Trophy Hunter
- Seeds to Sow
- Retail Hell
- Idle Roaring Room
- Four Walls
- My Turn 2 Play
- Sold Out
- Opening Night
Review and Photos by: Tom Mis