Show Me the Body Showed Vancouver the Brutal Power of the Banjo

Fortune Sound Club, August 4

With Punitive Damage, Juice

Photo: Jean-Michel Lacombe

Published Aug 5, 2022

Show Me the Body's appeal is nearly impossible to explain or categorize. The New York band, led by vocalist and banjoist Julian Cashwan Pratt, ostensibly play hardcore punk — but theirs is a heavily mutated take on the genre, deployed with the cadences and attitude of streetwise hip-hop, and slathered in bucketloads of noisy sludge and digital grime, with just a hint of uneasy freak folk menace visible underneath.

In front of a sold-out Thursday-night crowd at Vancouver's Fortune Sound Club, that appeal was undeniable. People went absolutely off for Show Me the Body. It's rare to witness such a visceral, room-wide convulsion; a roiling tide of bodies, ebbing and flowing from the stage, hoarse throats shredded by nonstop sing alongs, and a gaggle of flailing limbs ridden by a near constant stream of stage divers and head walkers.

It was an impossibly high level of energy to reach, but one that was perhaps occasionally matched and definitely instigated by the fantastic local openers. Having recently released their awesome Demonic Frequency 7-inch, Vancouver's Juice tore it up with a set of hard, Cro-Mags-indebted hardcore. They perfectly balance their crunchy metallic riffs with just the right amount of rhythmic bounce to allow the pit to breathe and open up before the next floor-collapsing breakdown.

They were followed by rising Pacific Northwest hardcore stars Punitive Damage, who were maybe the highlight of the show for this reviewer. The band were impeccably tight and surprisingly fun in light of their thoughtful lyrical focus tackling systemic racism and police brutality, among many other of society's ills. Vocalist Steph Jerkova was an absolute force of nature, ably stirring the crowd into a frenzy and guiding them through every speedy thrash riff and slow, stomping mosh part. Seeing Punitive Damage live can make you feel like — if you just sweat and yell hard enough with a bunch of your like-minded friends — you can summon the energy to snap a cop car in half by slamming it down on top of your knee. That's no small feat.

Show Me the Body eventually took the stage to nothing short of rapturous applause. As Pratt pulled out his banjo from behind his amp and slung it around his neck, the audience went even wilder. Between stentorian barks and quasi-raps not entirely dissimilar from the vocals of Death Grips' MC Ride, Pratt stalked the length of the stage with coiled, confrontational menace, walking right up to the faces of concertgoers and never hesitating to shove anyone who lingered on stage for too long back into the mass of bodies. Part of what makes Show Me the Body such compelling performers is this air of barely controlled chaos and teetering peril.

But let's talk about that banjo for a second. At first glance, the band's use of the instrument in a hardcore punk setting can feel like a bit of a gimmick, a stunt to get people talking about the sheer oddity of the plucky five-string being played on top of pounding drums and fuzzed-out bass. But in the context of what Show Me the Body do, it makes perfect sense. Pratt's tinny, slashing distorted banjo strikes cut perfectly through the churning low-end like corrosive acid eating through metal.

Nearly every song in Show Me the Body's set was propelled by these dynamics. The band's awesomely named drummer Jackie Jackieboy laid down a thundering gallop over Harlan Steed's blown-out percussive bass lines and noisy electronic loops, while Pratt's howls and cauterizing banjo sent everything careening off a cliff, in a good way. The set's lone respite from the din came during a performance of fan-favourite "Arcanum," from the band's 2019 LP Dog Whistle. Here, the percussion relented and Pratt's banjo actually made the sounds we traditionally associate with it. As the song's slinky, downcast groove patiently built, the pit became engaged in a slow, séance-like circular dance, the crowd loudly intoning with Pratt: "Arcanum, the only card I wanna see." The effect was surreal and oddly magnetic.

Show Me the Body have a potent alchemy at play that seems to truly yield gold in a live setting. Theirs is a truly unique sound in an increasingly vibrant hardcore punk world — one that's definitely worth experiencing.

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