California punks Ceremony deliver a chaotic, cohesive set of old and new material at The Church

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Ceremony | Photo by Megan Kelly | keganmellyphotography.tumblr.com
Ceremony | Photo by Megan Kelly | keganmellyphotography.tumblr.com

Rohnert Park, California five-piece Ceremony have a long and storied history in the Philadelphia punk and hardcore scene, especially at the fan-favorite venue, The First Unitarian Church. On Saturday, July 19th, the band made a triumphant return to “the Church”, a stop on a twenty-five day-long tour with Philadelphia’s own shoegaze phenoms, Nothing, and Seattle’s dark powerviolence duo, Iron Lung.

Much like any Ceremony gig since the release of 2012’s Zoo, this set was a diverse collection of the band’s efforts that span their ten-year history. Ceremony started out in 2004 as Northern California’s premier powerviolence hardcore act. Their first few releases were bitter, aggressive, outbursts that channeled an alienation from societal norms coupled with hateful contempt for government and authority figures. The focus shifted with the group’s last three full-length releases Still Nothing Moves You (2008), Rohnert Park (2010), and Zoo (2012). The songs maintained their dark, and often bleak, lyrics, but the music shifted from aggressive powerviolence hardcore, to a garage influenced post-punk. The atmospheric Zoo was the most abrupt shift, leaving some fans behind.

The remaining Ceremony enthusiasts, much like those in attendance at this sold out show, embraced the shift. Ceremony delivered a chaotic, yet cohesive mix of old and new. The driving post-punk tunes “Hysteria” and “Citizen” sat perfectly in the set-list amongst hardcore classics, and fan-favorites “Kersed” and “He-God-Has Favored Our Undertakings”. While the harder songs may have elicited a bigger crowd response, including a few pile-ons where the microphone was completely lost at the bottle of a pile of screaming fans, the energy remained consistent throughout the stage-dive ridden set. When the show was over, injuries were nursed, fluids were replenished, and surely no Ceremony fan, old or new, left disappointed.

Nothing | Photo by Megan Kelly | keganmellyphotography.tumblr.com
Nothing | Photo by Megan Kelly | keganmellyphotography.tumblr.com

An opening set was provided by hometown boys Nothing. This group has run into phenomenal success on the heels of their latest full-length, Guilty of Everything. The critically-acclaimed album, released in March of 2014, showed the world that Nothing could deliver a well-written, catchy, and darkly haunting record. Touring non-stop since releasing the album, Nothing have also backed-up their promise to be the loudest band you’ve ever seen. They delivered soaring shoegaze melodies over pounding bass that was sure to shock those up front. An emotionally charged set coerced an appropriate response from Nothing’s passionate fan base, including one concertgoer drawing blood from repeatedly slamming his hand on the monitor speaker. True to the pedigree of the members of Nothing (past and current members of hardcore acts such as Horror Show, Beware, Night Sins) the set was as intense and chaos-filled as a hardcore set, stage dives and all. Nothing continues to reinforce their place in Philadelphia’s aggressive music scene.

Filling out the touring lineup, and reinforcing the hardcore roots of the tour were powerviolence act, Iron Lung. Leading the charge of current heavy bands, Iron Lung has consistently been delivering brutal and dark records for over fifteen years, mostly self released through their own label, Iron Lung records. The two-piece band delivers a heavier and more intense performance than most four or five-piece acts. Jumping from joking with the crowd into scathing hardcore songs, filled with blastbeats and chaotic stops, Iron Lung delivered a performance that solidified their reputation as pioneers of newer, and weirder, heavy music.

Rounding out the show was local groups, Bad Side and Anxiety Hammer. If you live in or around Philadelphia and haven’t seen Bad Side yet, make a point of it. These West Philly favorites deliver a chaotic and fun-filled set of gutsy and dirty punk rock, played by some of the scene’s hardest-working DIY contributors. Anxiety Hammer are a relatively new gritty punk band that hail from South Philly. Opening the night with a tight and aggressive set this group set the tone for a night of dark, gritty and progressive forms of punk, played in one the city’s best venues for a punk show.

The infamous multicolored alphabet carpet was the perfect backdrop for a summer classic. Sweaty summer hardcore and punk shows at the Church never get old, and this was one for the ages.

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