The best kind of music is transformative, allowing the audience and performer to together create an alternate space where new thinking is possible and new rules apply. On Jan. 5, under three flourescent lightbulbs in the fellowship hall of St. Stephen’s Church, Boston hardcore band Fiddlehead did exactly that, transporting a crowd of DC punks to a world of hard-hitting melodic riffs, emotive lyrics, and stage diving backflips. Headlining a stacked East Coast bill including End It, Dazy, Final Gasp, and local band Flowers for the Dead, Fiddlehead proved the continued relevancy and power of punk music as the DC scene heads into 2024.
“It’s a very intimidating thing to play DC,” Fiddlehead’s lead singer Patrick Flynn warned the crowd. “There’s a lot of history here, and I’m not talking about the statue kind.”
Flynn, who in addition to fronting the band also teaches AP World History at a Massachusetts high school, was referring to the DC hardcore punk scene of the mid 1980s, which birthed such influential bands as Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and Fugazi. DC hardcore musicians married a fast, aggressive style of music with a straightedge lifestyle, DIY aesthetic, and revolutionary politics to create a new punk subgenre which continues to generate a vital scene today, with Fiddlehead often sharing bills with other popular acts like Mississippi’s MSPaint, DC’s Glitterer, and Baltimore’s Turnstile.
Red Brick Presents’ choice of venue in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Columbia Heights deliberately evoked this DC history. Churches were formative spaces for early hardcore bands in the 80s, who cultivated inclusive, all ages crowds and rejected a culture of excessive drinking and drug use. St Stephen’s has been a fixture for neighborhood activism as well as the local music scene; in addition to hosting occasional DIY shows, the church is also the headquarters for Thrive DC, a homeless services coordinator, and Positive Force, a punk rock activist organization which emerged from the ’80s hardcore scene. Fiddlehead took the stage on Friday night under a church banner which read “Individuals can resist injustice, but only a community can do justice.”
Fiddlehead’s latest album, titled Death Is Nothing to Us, proved that hardcore is far from dead, particularly with the band’s aggressive live presentation of the songs.
Stream Death Is Nothing to Us by Fiddlehead on Spotify:
Fiddlehead’s propulsive, emo-inflected brand of hardcore engaged this community to huge displays of raw emotion and insane acrobatic feats. Flynn dedicated the band’s set to “the people who just wanna put it all out there,” and put it all out there they did: from the very first song of the sold-out show, the crowd responded ecstatically, jumping, yelling, moshing and stage diving with wild abandon. Audience and performers fed off each other’s energy, with Shawn Costa pummeling drums, Alex Henery shredding on guitar, and Flynn leaning over to lock heads with those in the churning moshpit right below him. In combining high energy physicality with an ethos of community care, Fiddlehead unlocked the kind of ecstatic live performance which only the best hardcore music can.
The other bands on Friday’s bill also showcased the impressive variety of the contemporary East Coast hardcore scene. From Boston band Final Gasp’s gothic deathrock, to Richmond band Dazy’s Weezer-influenced power pop, and Baltimore hardcore band End It’s aggressive anti-capitalist screeds, the lineup offered something for every flavor of punk fan. We are incredibly lucky to have venues like St Stephen’s and promoters like Ray Brown in this city.