Words + Photos by Farrah Skeiky
Every time Ceremony has played DC, something has happened to stop me from going. Everything from trips to the ER to unshakable prior engagements to the unfortunate timesuck that is undergraduate education. I fell out of my chair the second I heard they were coming to the Church. The lineup has since changed but still remained strong (Screaming Females were replaced by Citizens Arrest), and even my Baltimore friends Sacred Love were on the bill. Just my luck, a last minute family obligation threatened my plans once again, but I wasn’t having any of it. If Muck and Plastic Gods could make the trek from Iceland, the suburbs weren’t stopping me again. By the time I arrive, I’ve missed the first four bands, an appearance by Mary Timony, and possibly the single greatest thing I’ve ever heard: Ian MacKaye playing catch with one of my good friends, which will forever be known as “winning the World Series of Hardcore.”
I step through the door just as Citizens Arrest play the first beat. Each member has been involved in an impressive list of other bands, so we’re pretty lucky that after nearly 20 years, Citizens Arrest reunited and released the Soaked in Others Blood EP. Ted Leo is in this band, but this band is not about Ted Leo. He’s stationed stage left on second guitar, and paces to the front and back throughout the set. It’s not impatience but rather his way of keeping out of the spotlight. That’s Daryl Kahan’s job. Kahan storms the stage in the typically frustrated manner of a punk singer, engaging as ever. The band dynamic has hardly changed despite lineup changes and a hiatus, and it’s a huge relief. And every song feels brand new: “Number” churns and shakes violently, and I’m especially feeling “Family At Your Throat,” considering the circumstances. The EP’s title track is a great example of how the new songs, while different, prove that Citizens Arrest are steadfast in their style. The set leaves most of us hoping that the rumors of a new album are true.
The lights go out Ceremony open with “Brace Yourself,” my favorite song off of this year’s Zoo. Before Ceremony switched from Bridge 9 to Matador, they released six cover songs, including Wire’s “Pink Flag,” and that influence was prominent throughout Zoo. Like nearly everyone in attendance, I was hesitant about how these new songs would translate live in the midst of a much harder catalogue. Ross Farrar steps onstage with a white tee tucked into blue jeans (Springsteen?) and immediately begins shaking things up.
Zoo’s vocals are muted on record, but live, Farrar approaches each song in the same rabid enthusiasm as he always has. All the new songs were played as if they’d been written in 2008. And as if to assuage those who feel differently, “Open Head” emerges with a sharp snare that’s appreciated by all, crashing through the chanting. More new songs, “Hysteria” and “Citizen” adapt marvelously to Ceremony’s trashing, sonic style, shedding any remaining shreds of doubt. All the while, Farrar is already having fits on stage, convulsing and wrapping himself up in cords.
The astounding thing about Ceremony is how effortlessly they trap everyone in a steady yet demanding groove (really any tracks off of Rohnert Park) and then throw you into the relentless swarm of their traditionally harcore material. “Into The Wayside Part I” leads into “Sick” and the anticipation leads to fists pounding on the stage’s edge. The assault is enormous. Every possible gripe with humanity is released as the song progresses. The truth is, we all needed this show. We’ve all got things to be angry about, and we need a release. I even get my first turn at the mic at this point: Sick of head trauma, so very tired of being sick. The timing could not be better. Even after that, the room is abuzz with nervous energy (maybe even more than before) that isn’t wasted, but tossed at “M.C.D.F.” with more confidence and purpose. And even in the chaos of kids moshing and stage diving, “World Blue” is still punctuated cleanly, contrasting gloriously with Farrar’s yammering scream.
More fierce, thrashing numbers ensue, even with a few tracks from Still Nothing Moves You. This storm doesn’t let up until “The Doldrums ,” where Farrar finds himself drudging through the crowd aimlessly, droning on as he finds himself face to face with countless fans who share the mic. There’s a lethargy to the way the crowd moves, as if things are winding down. But they aren’t, of course, and the set ends with two from Violence Violence. “I Want To Put Things To An End” sends the hypnotized crowd into a frenzy, and not one beat goes by without a stage dive. The twisting “Kersed” closes us out, nearly a last call for stage dives and circle pits. I’m exhausted but still buzzing with that same nervous energy, and completely satisfied. Six years of anticipation and this night had undoubtedly become one of the best shows of the year. Maybe it’s exactly what we needed in light of inescapable recent frustrations, but it was hard not to leave the Church thinking “this is my war.”