Metal Militia 

An underground hesher scene is thriving in Concord. Yup, Concord.

As much as Staind and Korn bite, it is awesome that so-called "heavy" music is now de rigueur. Tool is innovative. System of A Down fuses hardcore with Rush-like time changes. And give it up for Live105: The heavy roster over there -- okay, we'll surrender and call it "nu metal"-- improves daily, and it's also adding bands like the Strokes, the Hives, and the White Stripes.

The flipside of all this is that young kids who want to separate themselves from the masses by eschewing any band their pedestrian classmates like are now pretty much given the choice of boring indie acts like shoegazers Death Cab for Cutie, or the deafening noise of bands with names like Septic Burial. Grindcore, death metal, black metal -- whatever floats your inverted crucifix -- is the hardcore of the new millennium for those people who need something more brutal than what came before.

And where is the current Bay Area hotbed of doom for this stuff? Why, none other than Concord, which is spawning more metal bands than any other Bay Area city. There are shows every weekend, usually all-ages moshfests at the Vet's Hall on Colfax Street, just off the main drag. And over the last two weeks, the Bourbon Street Bar and Grill has hosted New York's Prong and the dirgy Acid King, bands few would expect to draw a crowd outside of San Francisco.

There are two reasons Concord has become an oasis of underground metal: one, there ain't nothing else to do there except get drunk in the karaoke lounge at Benihana's, and two, it's got what every hessian breeding ground needs -- a relatively liberal police force and easy access to rednecks. But the most important ingredient of a thriving metal scene is something Concord's got in spades: a high incidence of bored white kids.

Scenes like this just don't happen in the big city; they happen in towns where there are myriad all-ages shows. For a lot of kids, these events have replaced local high-school football games as the cool place to hang out on a Friday night; you've still got your athletes (guitarists), groups of giggling girls, and spiked Coca-Cola.

One recent show, a six-band showcase at the Vet's Hall, served as a primer for anyone wanting to check out what's what around here. It was the CD-release party for G2K, formerly Genocide 2000. Advice to the band: change your name immediately. It sounds like a cologne on display at Walgreens, not to mention there's already a teenybopper group called B2K with the very same problem. Lucky for these guys, their music is all right, with slow-building songs that periodically rip into rageful guitar-and-vocal onslaughts of "I still hate you!" and "Shit!"

The other bands included Concord's Domeshots, Agonistic Resemblance, 40 Grit, and a band out of Livermore called Starch. They were all doing the old throat-of-Satan vocals and chunk-chunk-chunk guitar/ bass/drum bridges and time changes so common among headbangers. But the best band was Starch, which traded off vocals between members, and had a little groove in its sound.

Paul Cowan, the band's bassist and one-third of its vocals, far prefers playing the CoCo County all-ages scene to 21-and-over clubs. "At all-ages shows, the kids just want to go crazy, tear it up," he says. "I've always said metal is not a spectator sport. It's something that requires everyone's participation." Cowan credits the concentration of high schools in the area for the good turnout -- Vet's Hall shows here typically draw 200 to 300 kids.

But what draws them out, and why are younger bands playing predominantly metal? "Unfortunately, a lot of the credit has to be given to MTV," says the bassist. "In the suburbs, you have two choices: loud blaring guitars or hip-hop. Most suburban kids aren't into starting hip-hop bands. They want to play instruments. They are being bombarded with metal on TV, and it's the foundation for what they begin to write."

The Concord scene also gets a jolt from Powerslave.com, a site dedicated to underground metal from San Jose to Pleasanton and the baby of San Jose hesher Mario Perotti, a heavyset longhair who comes to shows bearing his cameras along with the attitude of a neophyte who knows he's doing something kind of cool. His site, filled with (not very critical) show reviews, band profiles, essays, and schedules, has helped legitimize Contra Costa's far-flung underground metal bands; it gives them an online forum and provides a hookup for musicians and clubs.

Besides having strengthened the Concord metal scene considerably, Perotti also defends it: As much as events function as a teen social club, he claims the shows are more than hard-core sock hops. "People actually show up to watch the bands and hear the music, not just to party and be seen," he says.

Like every music trend, this one will run its course eventually. Hopefully, though, it will leave behind a thriving music scene in the East Bay that feeds and influences the next musicians to come. Ah, Concord: It's not just for meth labs anymore. -- Katy St. Clair

Hellbent for pleather: Katy.stclair@eastbayexpress.com

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