NEW YORK — When I looked in front of me to see a girl had torn off her shirt and was shouting the lyrics in nothing but a black bra without a goddamn care, I knew things were right. Five minutes longer on the sweaty dance floor, and I would have been right there with her, as clothes were rendered useless at this point in Defiance, Ohio’s set.
Crowds at Defiance shows form into a swaying, pushing, dancing mob of fans shouting every word to the folk punk, DIY sound of violin, drums and guitars. A sound that mashes with lyrics of genuine concern for our often destructive and isolating society and structures. The show and crowd at the Europa Nightclub Tuesday night in Brooklyn were no different: positive, energetic and entirely uninhibited.
The first time I saw Defiance, Ohio play was at Mass Art in Boston in a spacious wood-floored rectangular room four years ago during my freshman year of college. After hearing my long-haired boyfriend at the time scream each word from a scratchy cassette player attached to his iPod, swerving around the dull streets of downtown Castle Rock, Colorado in a truck, I designated myself as qualified to see a live show.
The band essentially played two shows that night in Boston because the room was so full the first round that you couldn’t possibly throw another body into the rhythmically swaying sea, and 50 people were still lined up waiting to get in. After one set, the next crowd funneled in, and Defiance kept playing.
“That was nothing like the Mass Art show in Boston,” I somewhat obnoxiously told my friend as we waited for Tuesday’s show to start in Brooklyn, when she referenced last summer’s Colorado show in a giant garage, somewhere across highway I-25 in Denver.
That show had awesome energy and the band was lovely. It was after they had recently come out with Midwestern Minutes, so it was fun to hear the new stuff, but the space just wasn’t right. The lights were on and the concrete floor was too large, so people spread out—some even sitting on the floor or couches—and all I could think about was the bursting room in Boston, where we jumped up and down, essentially on top of each other, drenched in sweat, screaming the words like they finally rendered sense to our existence.
It was my first folk punk show, or punk show for that matter, and I have found myself using that Boston show as a standard for all other shows since—whether Defiance, Ohio was the band playing or not. And with this very personal standard, I can say that Tuesday’s show in Brooklyn was a testament to the relentless, evolving talent of the band as they have toured in various ways for almost a decade, and the passion of their fans, who do still sing their hearts out because they do know the words by heart now (“This feels better”).
I got chills when Sherri came on stage just to sing her part in “Oh, Susquehanna!”–the part when the fast paced drumming settles for a heartfelt interlude of childhood reminiscence that contrasts a depiction of modern-day monotonous lifestyles, a harmonica in the background.
They played a lot of songs from this album, The Great Depression, though not as much from Share What You Got, their first album produced in 2003. I’m pretty sure they played almost every song I wanted to hear (e.g. “The Condition,” “Anxious and Worrying,” “Hairpool,” “Response to Griot”). But then again, anything they could have played would have been what I wanted to hear.
While we got to the venue late, we caught a few songs performed by one of the opening bands, Nana Grizol, drummer Theo Hilton’s side project that involves Laura Carter and Robbie Cucchiaro, who both formerly played in Neutral Milk Hotel.
Dressed in a white t-shirt and jean cut-offs, Theo transitioned the band from song to song in an awkward, but endearing manner, wiping his greasy hair out of his face. This was my first encounter with Nana Grizol’s sound and I enjoyed the combination of trumpet duos with Theo’s folky vocals and lyrical style.
As soon as Defiance came on, the stage diving and crowd surfing started and became a constant throughout the show, with girls and guys tossing themselves from the stage into supportive, waving hands as band members occasionally smiled at the loving chaos. During the last song they played, “Condition 11:11,” there were four people diving simultaneously on multiple turns, as though it was a swimming race and everyone needed to finish.
There’s something uniquely “Defiance” about the environment at the band’s shows. A sense of support and love as you bop around in the mosh pit, even catching smiles from other people singing. Ryan, lead vocals, checked in mid-way through the show to ask if everyone was doing okay.
Though never lost, the show re-affirmed my enthusiasm for not only the group’s music, but their values as they tour, and the liberating atmosphere they create during their shows. One in which a girl can dance shirtless, strangers can put their arms around each other and everyone can scream refreshing, poetic lyrics in unison—and even if just for a few moments, our “petty problems” aren’t really all that ba-aaaaaad.