For all the talk about adherence to anti-corporate, D.I.Y. ethics tossed around at the time, I don’t know that the third-wave ska explosion would’ve happened if Sublime and No Doubt hadn’t both signed big juicy major label contracts and sold bah-krillions of albums in the mid-’90s. But if a secret cabal of alpha-capitalist industry overlords manufactured the influx of sunny trumpet melodies, upstroked guitars, and faux-snark to keep the underground sceney kids from getting too depressed or angry, their success was Less Than Jake, but less than total.
In 1997, somehow, Choking Victim — a New York City quartet that advocated squatting, hard drugs, Satanism, and a rigorous loathing of The Man — snuck a song about parasitic skin diseases onto a nationally distributed compilation sampler. That comp was the first of Hellcat Records’ Give ‘Em The Boot series, a disc whose marketability wasn’t hindered by labelhead Tim Armstrong’s honest-to-gosh MTV exposure in 1995 via Rancid hit singles “Time Bomb” and “Ruby Soho.” (As paradoxes go, Viacom’s indirect, accidental hand in launching the songwriter who eventually penned “Clear Channel (Fuck Off),” would be interesting if it wasn’t also a punk rock cliché.)
Choking Victim imploded before they could capitalize on the response to “Infested” or the inexplicable classic No Gods, No Managers LP, supposedly recorded the same day the band parted ways. Undeterred, singer/guitarist Scott “Stza” Sturgeon founded Leftover Crack, an act that’s long-since outlived and outgrown the ska revival, and can boast of Constructs of the State, disseminated to the drooling masses last week via Fat Wreck Chords.
Constructs is sort of an amazing record for reasons totally unrelated to music. We likely reside in one of the few parallel dimensions where it was ever recorded and Leftover Crack hasn’t broken up yet. The first LoC LP, originally titled Shoot The Kids At School — a tongue-in-cheek, and kind of tacky reference to the 1999 Columbine Massacre — was rechristened Mediocre Generica at the behest of Hellcat. The creative rift brought about a nasty falling out between LoC, Hellcat, and Hellcat’s parent company, highly influential punk institution, Epitaph Records. Police Departments nationwide are not at all fond of Leftover Crack or affiliated bands, and have allegedly muscled numerous venues into disallowing their shows. Drummer Brandon Possible died mid-tour in 2004. Stza and noted collaborator/original-but-no-longer LoC member Ezra Kire say they don’t hate each other, but eeeeeeh, you can tell they probably do. For a time, former sideproject Star Fucking Hipsters appeared successful enough to keep Stza occupied should LoC give up the ghost.
An aura of uncertainty loomed over LoC throughout the ‘00s and beyond, and their faux-inevitable meltdown made for a dynamite incidental marketing gimmick. Decent odds said it could be the last time every time LoC came to town, or so some of us thought, and thus their shows always felt more like “events” than performances from acts who seemed — often misleadingly — better equipped for a longer haul.
But in hindsight, were LoC shows really more off the handle, or debatably worthy of law enforcement’s ire, than those of countless other hardcore bands? Did we ever have any reason to think Stza and the bunch were any more unpredictable or did more drugs than thousands of other touring musicians? Not really, but it’s still more-or-less what we believed. And it wasn’t just slack-jawed punk rocker kids who swallowed the hype, either. Police and numerous promoters who you’d think would’ve known better believed it, too.
In some respects, the “idea” of Leftover Crack was just as powerful and magnetic, if not sometimes more so, than their actual music. Whether that became the case via anyone’s deliberate actions or not, it’s a very singular position for a band to find themselves in, especially when lacking the calibre of publicists available to Miley Cyrus and her ilk.
Although, the relatively scant quantity of LoC music has made it easier for the band’s mythology to eclipse its output. Released last week, Constructs of State stands as only the third official LoC full-length (due respect to their EPs and splits with F-Minus and Citizen Fish) and the most recent since 2004’s Fuck World Trade. Not unlike the aforementioned tours, no one would be shocked if Constructs winds up the final record under the LoC banner. Should a fourth album take another decade to produce, touring and promotional duties will fall to a nearly 50-year-old Stza. Or maybe renewed interest in his flagship project will jumpstart a productivity spree, and LoC Vol. IV will be a surprise treat before 2017.
We don’t know! Right now, it doesn’t matter!
Should Constructs echo as the bang LoC goes out on, it’s a worthy enough bookend to their legacy. “Loneliness & Heartache,” stands out as a counterintuitively peppy ode to heroin addiction, and the latest case for Stza’s inclusion in the pop-punk songwriter Hall of Fame.
“Amenecer de los Muertos,” explores the embarrassing side of D.I.Y. touring, and manages simultaneous defiance and resignation with the breviloquent chorus line, “We’re playing at a maaaaall. We’re playing at a mall!” On the bummerside, the long-overdue collaboration with reclusive Operation Ivy singer Jesse Michaels is the only thing distinguishing “System Fucked” from a perfectly well and fine but ultimately “meh” anti-Military Industrial Complex track. Op Ivy’s vicarious prestige demands something more ambitious than a song LoC might as well have recorded by themselves. That letdown’s more than compensated for at the finishing line — the towering not-quite-a-cover rendition of Intro5pect’s “The War At Home,” a track with sad new relevance via the toxicity lately injected into the national immigration discourse.
But this isn’t 1997, high school kids don’t need a punk rock band to tell them that the police are corrupt and their parents are idiots and probably racists for retweeting Donald Trump, the Trench Coat Mafia doesn’t scare anyone anymore, ISIS does, but not even Stza Crack thinks ISIS is funny, nobody listens to ska, and “anti-corporate,” ”D.I.Y.” “ethics” don’t matter when the option to “sell-out” no longer exists. So what purpose does Leftover Crack serve in 2015?
“What are you doing here?,” Lester Bangs asked a 24-year-old British woman outside of a Clash show in 1977, according to a report from New Musical Express.
“I mean… Why do you like the Clash?”
Oblivious or indifferent to the socio-political and cultural implications ruminated upon in the written proceedings, she curtly replied, “Because they make me jump up and down!”
Just like the Clash used to be able to do, Leftover Crack can still make people jump up and down, even once we subtract shit like historical context and abstract notions of “relevancy.” And making people jump up and down is no small thing.
It is a damn fine and respectable business to be in.
Follow Barry Thompson on Twitter @barelytomson.