Drowning boy Clutching a Prong

I saw Drown, Clutch, and Prong today at Hammerjacks in Baltimore, and came to the conclusion that they have more in common than 5-letter band names. Drown opened, and they were excellent! Bordering on hardcore/thrash metal, combined with a synthesiser making noise, they mixed elements of industrial and metal quite well, and put on a very good show. They were reasonably tight, and the light effects went along very well with their tunes, warming up the crowd for Clutch and Prong.

Clutch reminded me of Black Sabbath, especially since they compose their songs using many (short) riffs, much the way Sabbath does. In fact, one of the riffs distinctly reminded me of the one in Into the Void ("Rocket engines burning fuel so fast / Underneath the blue sky they last"). They were the least impressive of the three bands, but they still sounded good, belting out some heavy tunes. Both Drown and Clutch played for about a half hour each.

Prong came on finally and blew both these bands away! They have a come a long way from their Beg to Differ days (in fact, only two songs from that album, their first major label one, was played). With video imagery and a 4th member, John Bechdel aka J.B. (Killing Joke, Murder Inc., Pigface and Brian Brain), who was manning the electronics, they put on a close-knit, violent, and an incredibly energetic show.

They opened with Irrelevant Thoughts from their Prove You Wrong release, with Tommy Victor's vocals sounding more death-metalish than on the studio version, but the guitar parts were wonderful. Victor's an excellent guitar player---every song he played could've been taken off of the CD, and this is a rare thing to see in a thrash metal concert. I also came to the conclusion that he is one of the more underrated guitar players in the metal world today. Paul Raven (Killing Joke, Murder Inc., and Pigface), the replacement for Troy Gregory, provided a solid thumping bass line to all the tunes and Ted Parsons' drumming was excellent! The drums sounded metallic and this is indicative of the direction Prong has taken. They have done what very few groups can manage to do: produce a mediocre album, resist the temptation to become more mainstream, and come back to produce a great album. Prove You Wrong, by far their worse major label release, IMO, was indeed more "accessible", shall we say, then Beg to Differ. Fortunately, in Cleansing, they seem to have gone back to their older roots, but add in noise to their hardcore/grunge sound in order to provide a fresh experimental sound.

Irrelevant Thoughts led the way to Beg to Differ, my favourite album and song by them. It was a violent version of the tune and it whipped the crowd into a frenzy:

"You make the right moves, I beg to differ, Disharmony amongst all our brothers.
 rather be a fool and see things clearer.   That's okay, be true to our grudges.
 You found a quick way to fill your pocket. No desire to walk beside you.
 That's the way in a world that's lost it.  Nothing positive when forced upon you.
 To fall in line.                           (So fall in line) Just fall in line
 Its meaningless, mindlessness.             Its meaningless, mindlessness.
                           I beg to Differ!
                                                         ---Prong, Beg to Differ

They then went on to do more stuff from their older albums, including Unconditional, Lost and Found, and Prove You Wrong, which the turbid crowd sung along with: "Prove you, prove you wrong / You can bet on it, I'll prove you wrong." Prong choruses do lend themselves to the crowd shouting along with them and Victor, who was in a very good mood, encouraged the crowd to move around, jump up and down, sing along, and mosh to the tunes. Fortunately Prong's songs aren't that suited to moshing and there wasn't much of it going on from what I could tell. He also praised the DC-Baltimore crowd a lot, saying they are the best in the nation. I wondered if he says this at every show, but according to J. Phillips, the founder of the Prong Fan Club, Victor will let the crowd know if they're lame, and will continue to antagonize them until the end of the show.

They played one tune that I hadn't heard before, Corpus Delecti, and apparently it is a song that didn't make it onto Cleansing, but can be found on the Broken Peace remix album. A majority of the songs they played was from the latest album, including Lost and Found, Broken Peace, Whose Fist is this Anyway?, Snap Your Fingers Snap your Neck, Another Worldly Device, One Outnumbered, Out of this Misery, No Question, and Home Rule. They should've come back for another encore. A lot of these songs depended on the 4th Noisemaker, Bechdel, and the fact that the speakers fuzzed when Victor screamed only added to the whole industrial/noise sound of the latest release. One of the songs in the encore was Test, which brings me to my reasons for liking Prong. The singalong chorus goes: "this is a test / this is only a test / This life is only a test" and perhaps Prong are not aware of the existential explorations that can be made with such a statement; an intriguing video accompanying the song, however, made me think that those words were not said in vain, even though the video also made them look like NIN rip-offs. Still, what separates Prong from a lot of other hardcore bands is the fact that they sing about deep issues in a sincere, terse and coherent way.

Notable absences were For Dear Life, Steady Decline, and Positively Blind. This was the first time I made it to Hammerjacks---it's not a bad club. It's not as good as Boots/Zaxx, but perhaps as good as the Black Cat and definitely better than the 9:30 club (the problem is that the 9:30 club has excellent shows). The acoustics are okay, but the nice thing about this place is that there's a balcony and if you can get a place behind the soundboard, you're in an excellent position to not only watch every detail of the proceedings, but also get a decent sound. I've also learnt that makeshift earplugs (made out of toilet paper), or earplugs loosened, are great for making sure you do not damage your hearing and for hearing the music with a lot of the noise eliminated.

"You want a good life.         You break your back.
 You snap your fingers.        You snap your neck."
         ---Prong, Snap Your Fingers Snap Your Neck

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org || September 24, 1994