Upon arriving at The End a bit early for the Coliseum show, a friend handed us a Heineken tallboy, inspiring us to do our best impression of Frank from Blue Velvet. We’d about exhausted the gag by the time openers Sheep Shifter kicked in to its chaotic set. These Middle Tennesseans make noisy oddball rock with angular guitar parts sharp enough to cut a piece of glass out of your foot. Bands like Shellac and Drive Like Jehu come to mind, but theses local spazzsters are a lot heavier than their ’90s counterparts.
We didn’t know what to expect from the next band, Child Bite, since all we knew about ’em was that they put out a 5-inch record with Phil Anselmo last year. Since the 5-inch is a terrible vinyl format, and Pantera was a terrible band, we were a little worried. But much to our shock, the Michiganders came out bare-knuckled and ferocious, drenched in dissonance and distortion. Child Bite continues the grisly tradition of Rust Belt post-hardcore like The Jesus Lizard, Laughing Hyenas and Die Kreuzen. These repugnant punks make music as painful, nasty and potentially infectious as their band name would imply. Obviously, we loved it.
When Coliseum first came through Nashville on tour for their recently reissued first LP, they were a very different band. The brainchild of Louisville’s Ryan Patterson, the band played a unique blend of raw distorted D-beat hardcore and mid-’80s Dischord Records-style punk. But over the past 11 years, the band eschewed its effects pedals and grew into something altogether new. While the the elements of Fugazi are still in check, they’ve distanced themselves from Discharge in favor of darker, more melodic bands like Christian Death and The Sound.
Just before the stroke of Midnight, the band fired up set-opener “We Are the Water,” from their recently released Anxiety’s Kiss LP. The song bounced along, trading back and forth between Patterson’s signature rasp and guitar leads reminiscent of The Cult, as if he were simultaneously channeling both Billy Duffy and Leatherface’s Frankie Stubbs in a concrete groove cemented by bassist Kayhan Vaziri and drummer Carter Wilson. Vaziri, known to Music City for his band other band, Yautja, went in a whole different sonic direction with Coliseum. If you closed your eyes, you’d swear you were hearing The Cure’s Simon Gallup. We aren’t sure if the trio is ready for eyeliner or clove cigarettes yet, but none of them looked out of place garbed in all-black attire.
While tracks from the new record made up most of the 50-minute set, the band did dig up some old bones like “Blind in One Eye,” a bombastic fist-pumper from 2005’s House With a Curse. Coliseum’s stage charisma has only improved over the last decade, which is rare for bands that turn their distortion knobs down. Usually it’s an insult when we say a punk band has “matured,” calling to mind embarrassing attempts to write songs palatable to Coldplay fans. Rare are the bands that grow up and pull it off. But these guys have mutated into something greater than what they once were. Coliseum may have mellowed their aggression, but not their tenacity or resolve to make fantastic music.