Combine my favorite music (punk) with my favorite city (Medellin, Colombia) and throw in one of my favorite bands (the Casualties) and objectivity begins to seriously deteriorate. Throw in one of the most vibrant punk scenes Iâ€™ve ever seen with cold beer and backstage access and there is no way youâ€™re gonna hear me say anything negative about the Casualties first concert in Medellin (12/13/09).
The previous night in Bogota, Santiago, Casualties South American tour manager, warned me to get to the Medellin show early because he wasnâ€™t sure exactly when the Casualties would go on stage. Since I also wanted to get some interviews backstage I moved my Avianca flight from Bogota to two hours earlier.
My very connected punk amiga in Medellin, Claudia, picked me up in a taxi at my hotel Sunday afternoon to head to the show and itâ€™s a good thing as the location of the venue changed that day.
I didnâ€™t want to miss the opening bands, including Medellinâ€™s own legendary I.R.A. who has been around since the 80s. IRA has toured the U.S. a few times including a couple of high profile gigs at CBGBâ€™s in NYC. I also had heard a lot of good buzz about a Medellin hardcore band Grito that I wanted to catch. Neither band disappointed.
The Medellin punks were out in full force drinking beer with friends before the show. Â The Policia were around but there was no tension like in Bogota… everything was calm and tranquilo. Â Claudia introduced me to some of her friends including the guys in another Medellin band with a big following â€œLos Suzioxâ€ (Pronounced Su-si-os which roughly translated is â€œdirtyâ€ in English. One of Suzioxâ€™s friends down from Toronto, Ronnie, spoke English which was cool because that point in my trip (day 3), my Spanish was â€œmas or menosâ€ (more or less) but decidedly more â€œmenosâ€ (less) than â€œmasâ€ (more).Â Ronnie and the guys graciously offered to allow me access to one of their practices later on in the week for the cameras which I gladly took them up on (more on that later).
I floated backstage through security by simply uttering the name â€œSantiagoâ€ and waving my camera around. Â Iâ€™m sure being the only gringo around (besides 3 out of the 4 Casualties) didnâ€™t hurt either. Why else would a gringo be at a Medellin punk show if he wasnâ€™t with the Casualties? Yes, the gringo card was in full force, so I played it.
Despite being busy and hectic as hell, Santiago took me around and introduced me to everyone, including IRA who set the stage for the evening by agreeing to do an interview right on the spot before they went on stage.
I said hello to Jake (lead guitar), Rick (bass) and Meggers (Drums) from the Casualties and went in to check out Grito and get some video and pics. Inside, I spotted Jorge (Vocals) from the Casualties checking them out as well and I know whyâ€¦ Grito is really very good! The hometown crowd knew every word to every song and they didnâ€™t hesitate a bit to jump on stage and sing in the mic (video footage from Grito performance coming soon)
I.R.A. came on stage later with equal enthusiasm and I was thrilled to be able to supplement my interview of these legends with some really cool footage of their very tight performance. IRAâ€™s songs are old school in that they are pretty short, and very, very tight. Vicky Castro from the Medellin band Fertile Miseria whom we interviewed back in August) jumped on stage for a couple of songs and the crowd went nuts. I could easily tell that Vicky is punk royalty in Medellin.
By the time the Casualties were ready to hit the stage the Casualtiesâ€™ army was in a frenzy. The guys came out to their traditional soldierâ€™s march sound effects and started the show as they had in Bogota (and NYC @ Times Square) with â€œWe Carry on the Flagâ€ followed immediately by â€œWe Are All We Haveâ€ from their latest CD. The ripped through a good 4 to 6 songs before Jorge finally took a break to address the crowd (in Spanish).
The stage was smaller than Bogota and there was always a crowd of onlookers on stage that sometimes got in the way of the band.Â Security was there but a bit inconsistent. I noticed they pummeled one guy for getting on stage repeatedly after trying many times to talk sense to him, but he just wouldnâ€™t be denied. Yet when Rick was trying to get a girl out of his way so he could play, they were nowhere to be found. I have a feeling the guys from the Casualties are quite used to this because they handled it like pros, playing on and not getting distracted from the task at hand of giving the punks in Medellin what they came for.
Security didnâ€™t pummel me (once again the Gringo card?) and let me jump on stage behind Rick and get some good video and pics from stage level. It was hot as hell up there but the view of the crazy punk contingent in Medellin was worth the heat. Medellin punks are truly a breed apart. Itâ€™s hard to compare them to the Bogota scene but it seemed a little tighter scene with the Bogota having cliques of skins, hardcore punks, etc. hanging out in different groups. In Medellin they seemed to just melt all together a little more seamlessly which I guess makes sense since it is a much smaller city (yet a possibly bigger punk scene).
The Casualties didnâ€™t play an encore like they did in Bogota, but I think everyone was spent after an almost solid hour of hardcore punk music blasting and the pit going non-stop.
Backstage after the show, it was chaotic and the guys seemed spent. After the crowd calmed down some, they were escorted out, I presume back to their hotel.
Thanks to Santiagoâ€™s sister, Pinky, who kept in contact with me, I hooked up with the band and crew along with a few fans and friends later at Parque Pablado, where a lot of the Medellin punks hang out.
Unlike Bogota, I decided to hang out longer and party with the guys (except Jorge, who stayed in) .We all did some shots and the guys from the band seemed to be having a great time, but also seemed really ready to get back to NYC after 2 solid weeks on the road in Latin America.Â Alas, I had to call it a night and I left the Casualties contingent surrounded by fans, partying it up and still taking photo after photo. Partying after the Medellin show almost did me in; I canâ€™t imagine doing that every night on tour.
But as I said, these guys are pros. You donâ€™t survive much less thrive like The Casualties have for 17 years in a tough â€œgenreâ€ like punk unless your good and the casualties are. They are first rate musicians, but more importantly they are true working class punks. They were very cool and accessible and selflessly took countless photos with their Colombian fans and put up with many a borracho (drunk) who just wanted to party with them. These guys represent the working class like no other punk band out there today as far as Iâ€™m concerned.
In addition the Casualties, I spent a lot of time hanging with the punks of Medellin. Medellin people (Paisas) as a whole are known for their friendliness and ability to have a good time and paisa punks donâ€™t lose that trait. To their fellow punks, they are even friendlier than the average Paisa and that is saying a lot.
From what I can tell in the short week I was there the punk scene in Medellin has a rich history but is still growing. With legendary bands like IRA and Fertile Miseria being joined by new, talented bands like Los Suziox, Grito, Lokekada and more, I think weâ€™ll be hearing more and more about the punk scene in Medellin and Colombia as a whole.
If you ever find yourself in Medellin, Colombia (you should, itâ€™s a great city) head over to Parque Pablado, find a punk and say hola and maybe share a beer. Â Donâ€™t let any language barrier stop you, true punks always seem to find a way to communicate.