Leftöver Crack at Ottobar: Event Review

Courtesy of Paul Adler
Courtesy of Paul Adler

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve taken a stage-diving boot to the face. It’s been longer, still—almost exactly a decade—since I’ve seen the band during whose set the face-booting occurred: Leftöver Crack (also fondly known by fans as The Crack Rock Steady 7 due to venue bans in several cities). So, as much as I’ll be discussing LoC’s visceral, earsplitting, vocal-chord-straining performance at Baltimore’s most beloved rats’ nest, Ottobar, I’ll also be taking a bit of a stroll down memory lane.

I first became acquainted with Leftöver Crack through an introduction to the members’ previous outfit, Choking Victim. CV were an divisive, provocative hardcore punk/ska/crust punk/death metal band based out of Alphabet City in New York’s East Village. Denizens of the infamous C-Squat on Avenue C, the band would eventually evolve into Leftöver Crack—the name was, at the time, cited as an oxymoronic joke of sorts, as most, if not all, members of the group maintained addictions to hard drugs like crack and heroin. And though I was straight-edge at the time and would remain so until I turned 18, the band’s radical, anarcho-nihilistic politics and lyrics appealed to me on a personal level. Then again, I was that kid with the Manic Panic-dyed mohawk who started bringing the ACLU’s Student Rights Handbook to class in the seventh grade (one time, I even got suspended for walking out of class to protest the war in Iraq in March of 2003—I was, like, so punk rawk).

I saw LoC as many times and at as many venues as I was able, given my age. I remember seeing them at Club Krome in South Amboy, New Jersey, back when smoking was allowed in venues. I was maybe 13 or 14 years old. (Krome, in typical New Jersey fashion, was later shut down because someone was shot to death in front of the club.)

My dearest and most vivid memory of seeing the band, however, was at their annual DIY festival, Cracktöberfest, the last iteration of which (until this year) was in early November, 2004. And boy, was it a riot. I mean, literally, the show ended in a full-blown riot: cops in riot gear, paddy wagons, pepper spray, and even a helicopter or two descended on the scene. This wasn’t without provocation of sorts, though. Things appeared to be going quite smoothly until Leftöver Crack—who have a protracted, contentious history with the NYPD—produced, out of the crowd the crowd, an enormous, smoldering mock crack pipe made of cardboard, wood, and tinfoil. Not long after the appearance of the massive pipe, the band’s singer, Scott “Stza” Sturgeon, broke into his normal “f**k the police; kill cops!” routine. These chants inspired some showgoers to start hurling empty 40oz bottles of malt liquor at the cops who were present and the rest, as they say, is history.

All harrowing accounts of my first (unfortunately, not my last) riot aside, when I learned LoC was reuniting for a Cracktöberfest tour, it took me all of about 30 seconds to book passage to Baltimore. Of course, the band played a show in Brooklyn, maybe half an hour’s subway ride away from me, two days before the Baltimore date, but they’re notoriously difficult to track down on the internet.

I was thrilled about going to Ottobar, as I used to frequent the little hole-in-the-wall during my tenure at the University of Maryland. I was less thrilled to learn someone had been murdered at the venue almost exactly a month before the Leftöver Crack show. In any case, I paid my cover and was inside in time to see the opening band: local boys, Enemy Insects.

Enemy Insects, as far as punk acts go, were nothing out of the ordinary; they were hard, fast, and loud—and they got a decent response from a loyal, albeit quite thin, hometown crowd. Next up was a “punk rapper” who went by the name Juicy Karkass. Though he was part of the tour package, Juicy cleared most the room as soon as he took the stage to a backing track. Apparently, the punk scene in Baltimore still values live instrumentation and maintains somewhat of a close-minded view of hip-hop.

Next up were Rats in the Wall, a hardcore punk group with whom the current incarnation of Leftöver Crack shares a couple members, namely Donny (drums, no last name given) and Brad Logan, who’s been on-and-off with LoC since the band’s formation. Unequivocally, Rats brought it with gusto and fury. Their singer Eva, the only woman on the tour, introduced a pleasantly surprising element to the band’s sound, marking it as unique and refreshing in a boys-club tour package. She never once tired, never once took a breather, and delivered thirty straight minutes of an intense frontwoman performance that left her standing head-and-shoulders above many of her peers who also played that night.

Rats in the Wall were followed by The Potato Pirates, who joined the Cracktöberfest tour package all the way from Denver, CO. The Pirates purveyed a more “traditional,” or clean, punk sound, refined in the way of seminal punk bands like the Bouncing Souls and NOFX, if not just a bit grittier. That they had a bagpiper earned them the crowd’s undivided attention, which was certainly merited as their music was actually, well, quite good. Moreover, these folks were the first band that night to rile the crowd into forming a pit; this was a heartwarming moment for me because, like anyone who’s been to a punk show, there’s little that reaffirms one’s faith in the scene like seeing a kid fall in the circle pit and get pulled to his or her feet within seconds by the rest of the crowd.

When 10:30 rolled around, Leftöver Crack finally took the stage to the opening guitar riffage of “Homeo Apathy” off the album Mediocre Generica, perhaps their best known full-length. Guitarist Brad Logan screamed the introduction to the album while Stza waited sidestage: “Scabies and gentlemen, from all the way in the back‘a tha food stamp line, and straight outta m******kin’ lo-cash! That crack-rock-steady beat drums on, so raise your m******kin’ pipes in the air for the Good, the Bad, and the Leftöver Crack!!”

To my surprise, the lineup looked quite different than it had a decade prior: Stza was still front and center and Alec Baillie, the band’s original bassist, was also present. Brad (who is, at this point, somewhat of a legend in the punk scene) held down guitar and backup vocal duties, while Donny (Rats in the Wall, Intro5pect) and Chris Mann (Intro5pect) filled out the drums and the other guitar/vocal spot, respectively. But Ezra Kire, the band’s original guitarist, was long gone, having fallen out with Stza after founding the ska-punk outfit Morning Glory. The most glaring absence was perhaps that of Leftöver Crack’s original drummer, Brandon Possible, who overdosed on heroin and died in late 2004.

After the band’s opener, Stza started making small talk with the audience, a familiar earmark of his performances. Instead of his usual diatribes against the police, the government, corporations, et cetera, he spent time talking about the hell that is heroin addiction, paying brief homage to the many friends he’s lost. Stza also spent several minutes between songs attempting, in his typical tongue-and-cheek fashion, to locate the respective owners of a bra and a cell phone that turned up onstage. In all, he seemed a great deal more sober than he did the last time I saw them, when he was openly encouraging crowd members to hurl glass bottles at cops in Tompkins Square Park. He looked cleaner, too, like maybe he’d quit the crack and the junk (though that didn’t stop him from putting down a water bottle full of brown liquor onstage).

Leftöver Crack roared through their set; after “Homeo Apathy” came “Life is Pain” and “One Dead Cop,” a favorite off their last release, F**k World Trade. The band decided to include a few choice Choking Victim cuts like “500 Channels,” and “Infested,” between which they performed songs like “You Can’t Go Home,” “Rock the 40oz,” and “Crack City Rockers.” The band played a set almost exclusively comprised of crowd favorites, throwing in only two new songs from a rumored upcoming third studio album. Both the songs earned favorable reactions from the audience, but the real treats came in the form of songs like “Atheist Anthem” and “Gay Rude Boys Unite,”progressive-leaning political numbers that radicalized me as a kid and resonated just as strongly with me that night.

As the set continued, I became overwhelmed by nostalgia. I was 15 years old again. And I absolutely do not care how much of a sentimental fanboy I sound like in saying this: I was up front at the stage for the duration of the set, gazing longingly at the band who so heavily influenced my formative years, screaming every lyric back into Stza’s mic when he would point it at members of the crowd, and trying as hard as I could to hold my ground with a pit behind me and stage-divers in front.

By the end of LoC’s set, I was bruised, exhausted, hoarse, and completely and totally ecstatic. As the band closed with “Born to Die” and offered encores of “Burn Them Prisons” and “Crack Rock Steady”—Choking Victim’s most famous tune—I was brought back to an adolescence of skateboards and basement shows, badly sewn back patches and DIY piercings. I was home in a way I haven’t been in ten years—and that, in the end, was what meant the most to me about the return of Leftöver Crack. Also, they had this awesome cat shirt that I totally would’ve bought, could I have afforded it.

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