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shame by Shelby Kraut

shame, Viagra Boys, and Kills Birds at Brooklyn Steel

Shame has managed to bring together those who are full of it, and those who don’t realize they have “it” at all.

By layla Passman 


After a decade of bouncy guitar riffs and smooth voices, the indie genre has been waiting for someone to turn it on its head. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that the older we get, the naivete of mainstream indie music seems to strike harder. Why are we listening to music that doesn’t capture the absolute defeat and anger of living every day? Music that conveniently brushes over the pain of life may have mass commercial appeal, but it doesn’t make a crowd move quite like heavier music. This shift is in part due to the wave of British post-punk bands gaining popularity in the States. These bands have a mathy and sophisticated take on punk music, while still holding onto the anti-establishment sentiment that makes it, well, punk.

shame by Shelby Kraut

When I arrive at the counter to pick up my ticket to see shame, I hear someone ask if they’re selling any tickets at the door. It’s sold out. I walk into the atrium populated by everyone from dads in flannels to teenage girls with dyed hair and their first pair of platform boots. A guy walks by me and remarks that this show is full of posers. I wonder if he’s talking about me or the new influx of post-punk fans that have seemed to accumulate at these shows. I walk into the first band already starting. Kills Birds, a classic punk band out of Los Angeles, immediately captures my attention. The lead singer is high-energy and seems to exude a certain confidence that comes with commanding music like theirs. I can see the audience being convinced of the band’s star power, slowly nodding their heads along to the high march of the guitar, while all eyes are drawn to the lead singer’s undeniable spunk. In the middle of their song “Volcano,” an abrupt silence leaves everyone in the audience quiet. As we’re all waiting in anticipation, the lead singer yells, “You’ve had enough of me Volcano.” The band erupts again, and we enthusiastically bang our heads along. The opener for the opener can often be overlooked, but I can tell that Kills Birds has some new indoctrinates in the crowd.

Kills Birds by Shelby Kraut

I go outside after the set to get some air. People in the smoking section are talking about how good Kill Birds was, about other shows in the same vein that are coming to town. A man with a skinny suit and greasy hair stands next to me. He gives off an air of self-importance that makes me wonder if he’s famous or not. Next to him, a middle-aged couple sparks up a joint. Shame has managed to bring together those who are full of it, and those who don’t realize they have “it” at all.

I find a space in the back and watch people filter in for the next act, Viagra Boys. With my back up against a rail, the room closes in on me. More fans enter, and I seem to be in the middle of a canal—a constant flow of people entering and leaving, each time giving me a careless shoulder push. Viagra Boys have attracted a large and adoring crowd, consisting of some of the tallest people I’ve ever encountered. My chances of seeing the performers past a dense crowd of people who were all seven feet tall, per my calculations, are slim. A suspenseful piano ballad plays over the dark room, and then, confronting us with a wall of sound, Viagra Boys begin. I stretch my neck and push up against the rail to find a group of slightly older, mostly tattooed men on the stage. There are a lot of them, though I can’t get an exact count. The frontman, Sebastian Murphy, is in black sports sunglasses and a blue tracksuit, which he took off almost immediately. They have a proud shlubbynes to them—the lead singer goes in and out of monologue after each song, talking about music, this country, and touring. The songs have a matter-of-fact way about them, all operating with the sludgey tone of Murphy’s voice, singing about being average, dying, and of course, being a rockstar. Viagra Boys are evidently not average, as they attracted the largest crowd, perhaps because of this drunken earnesty. The most wisdom often comes from that old drunk guy at the dive bar, and Viagra Boys embody that spirit and bring their own energy that has drawn people in, no matter who they are.

Viagra Boys by Shelby Kraut

The crowd thins noticeably after Viagra Boys, so I can get a better view of shame. During the first moments of their set, I remember that any band becomes instantly cooler if they’re British. All sporting a different variation of an English bowl cut, the band instantly energizes the room. Shame plays music that feels like a slap in the face—abrasive at first, then a wild shock to the system that makes you want to scream. You can see it in the band, too. Bassist Josh Finerty leaps across the stage, jumping, running, and even doing a full flip, all while still playing. The crowd gives in to the heaviness of their heads, bowing along to the beat of the drums and ringing guitar. The lead singer, Charlie Steen, has every essence of a Brit-punk leading man. He takes the mic stand and begins coronating people in the audience, reaching to them as if it’s an extension of himself. At one point I look away, only to find him on top of the crowd, walking, as his fans support him just by his ankles. Steen stands above us all, performing from a new point of power as everyone watches. He floats back to the stage and continues the set. You can hear an earnestness to their loudness. Steen’s lyrics seem both reflective and a call to action. The band has been together since they were 17, and you can hear how their own relationship spills out into what they make. While seeing more commercial success, there’s still a sense of scrappiness to their sound that makes their audience feel understood, or more likely, accepted for their flaws, messiness, and failures.

The ways rock music has fractured, respawned, or melted down to just its parts over the years has felt like one big blur. It’s hard to tell what is what anymore. As mainstream indie music becomes increasingly watered down, orphaned rock fans look for direction in new-age punk like Kills Birds, Viagra Boys, and shame. These bands bring back a certain dynamism to the genre that feels complicated and daunting in an alluring way.

Steen smokes a cigarette onstage and continues to rouse. While at first glance this music may sound rageful, I find that it’s not angry at its core, but taps into widespread panic and confusion. Sometimes, it feels like everything is caving in on you. You don’t know where to look or how to feel. Instead of trying to focus through a tumultuous life, shame seeks to embrace the turmoil and spit back when necessary. It may just be the best thing for us all.

shame by Shelby Kraut