The Flatliners (Photo by Steph Drabik)
“This binge is monumental.”
For the DC stop of their 20th-anniversary tour, veteran Toronto punk rockers The Flatliners were down a man at Songbyrd Music House. But they delivered a tight and raucous performance nonetheless on that blustery Wednesday night. Lead man Chris Cresswell promised the crowd he’d keep it special — nay, weird — and the band made the most out of an unideal situation.
Scorching into “Performative Hours”, the opening missive from their August 2022 full length release New Ruin, the band left little to the imagination to the tightly packed crowd on how this night was going to play out at Songbyrd on Nov. 16. All in attendance at Songbyrd, including the fine folks working the door and the bar, were treated to the heart-pounding, blisteringly aggressive style that has endeared so many to the group. Throughout the robust 75 minutes of music, the crowd enjoyed songs off a minimum of six different records, if I counted it right; a reflection of the band’s storied 20-year career. Hearing so much different material really put an emphasis on just how much The Flatliners have evolved their musical tastes; from high-energy melodic skate punk anthems to the more deliberate, post-hardcore-influenced flavors of their later works, the brothers-in-arms offered fun for the whole family. To that end, Creswell’s impressive vocal range, both tonally and stylistically, was on display all night
Tragically, “stage right riff Lord” Scott Brigham was unable to participate — in the band’s first show in DC in 10 years — due to a death in the family, reducing The Flatliners’ guitar coverage by half. The band reacted to this sad news in an unassuming and humble style, dividing the night into unique musical acts, as outlined below.
Stream The Flatliner’s setlist from their Nov. 16 show at Songbyrd Music House on Spotify:
Act I: The tale of a Good Samaritan
Ben Kotin, of opener Taking Meds fame, was a real pal and stepped in on shredding duties during the first part of The Flatliners’ set. This first act, featuring material mostly from their middle years, bounced manically between sugary sweet melodies, hooky choruses, and more aggressive horn-throwing and head-banging riffs. They closed this portion of the performance with “Oath,” another track off their latest release. Before kicking off the tune, Creswell politely pointed “any transphobe or homophobe in attendance” to the exits; a fitting directive, given the Senate, here in our nation’s capital, had gotten over a major hurdle in passing the Same-Sex Marriage rights bill just hours before.
Act II: Let’s try a threesome
Ok, so things started getting interesting. After Ben took his leave of stage, we were at 75% of full Flatliner capacity. Turns out the band ain’t too shabby as a trio, even down the crucial component that is Scott absolutely shredding the guitar. Creswell deftly handled both guitar parts during these next six songs, while retaining vocal duties, his brain seemingly imploding in front of us. Bassist Jon Darbey (sporting what can only be described as a manhawkbun) and drummer Paul Ramirez, who like Creswell and Scott Brigham have both been in the group since its inception in 2002, did a phenomenal job providing a thick rhythm section to keep the sound as full and all-encompassing as possible.
Multiple times during Act II, frontman/comedian Creswell teased songs off the band’s debut, self-released album Destroy to Create. Much to the crowd’s collective dismay, he ended up giving up the ghost, “sorry no ska” and we didn’t get a single taste of that incredible record. But hey, at least we were treated to the powerhouse banger that is “Calming Collection”.
Act III: Oh gawd, he’s got an acoustic guitar
After that highwire rock n roll threesome, Jon and Paul exited stage left, and ok now it’s just Chris. Sporting a Crass t-shirt, and an acoustic guitar. Oh god. The crowd was promised a special and weird night. Anticipation hung in the air as he, very slowly, tuned his guitar. When he finally unleashed the first chord, folks were immediately pacified, bobbing along to a rendition of “Indoors,” a caramel-y ballad off the band’s 2017 Inviting Light album.
Of course, Creswell is no stranger to performing alone, as he has released multiple solo albums throughout the years.
The troubadour ended his solo set with a dedication to his friends in the audience, members of venerable DC act Darkest Hour; a minor key version of the melancholy ballad, “Daggers.”
Act IV: The finale
Blessed fig’s end! Like a deus ex machina, the original lineup i.e. the three guys in The Flatliners + Kotin, are suddenly all on stage at volume 11 again. We’re told this is it; a few songs to go, thanks for coming, go Raptors, etc.
The much-adored musicians kicked off this final act with fan favorite “Monumental,” achieving sonic nirvana while pumping fresh blood into the stirring populace below them. As the band edged into their next song, “Rat King,” Creswell again pointed to the exit, imploring any “non Antiracists” to please follow the direction of his finger. Fuck yes!
The Flatliners ended this act, and the night, with a tribute in honor of Scott’s loss, closing the set with an anthem off of The Great Awake, “Eulogy.”
The Flatliners faced down an unexpected setback with determined resolve and genuine humility, providing a unique experience to all those at Songbyrd that night.
Thoughts go out to Scott as he deals with this unforeseen tragedy.
“You will always be remembered. You will be celebrated. You will never be forgotten.”