The venue for the Judge show here in Bangkok was the Brownstone. It’s basically a music studio and hall for rent with a small stage and a decent sound set-up. Not too big, but not so cramped as to be impractical or uncomfortable. Like the best bowl of porridge burgled off a bunch of bears it’s just right. No barricades or bouncers in front of the stage. No fights or foolishness that I witnessed. BYOB from the 7-11 in effect, just like you’d expect at any Judge concert, past or present. Very traditional in that sense. Exactly how things should be for a proper hardcore show in my humble opinion.
Yos, the promoter, has been doing shows in Bangkok for nearly 20 years. The first gig he organized was actually for Code 13 of Minneapolis and of course I know those cats since we’re from the same town. Back in the day, Felix Von Havoc and I were both HeartattaCk columnists (in ye olde '90s, he also wrote for Maximum Rocknroll.) These days Yos runs a Thai-language music magazine called BLAST in addition to putting on shows and he’s one of the heavy-duty hardcore horsepower engines that keep the Thai scene machine rolling right along.
A very solid and stylistically eclectic (well, different styles of hardcore, at least) lineup of Thai bands opened the show and all of them put on memorable and impressive performances. High Voltage started things off at a gallop with their up-tempo and energetic “88” style hardcore. There was a definite Youth Crew flair to it in effect and their vocalist kept things lively by rushing to and fro across the stage without cease. I’m told that members of this band are also in another outfit called Can’t Break that I’m sure I’ll get a chance to see play before too long.
The second band to take the stage was NO IS NOT. Something about their band name demands full caps from me even if they don’t write it that way themselves. And yes, I’ve gotten the spelling right. I know some readers are itching to change it to "NO IT’S NOT" or assuming that’s their actual band name, but I assure you … No, it’s not. It is definitely NO IS NOT. I think it has a bit of a ring to it done their way, personally. All that aside, they played metallic hardcore, perhaps one might even venture to call it metalcore, in a very tightly executed fashion.
I don’t want to play favorites on my very first visit to a Thai hardcore show, but … Well, I’m lying I guess, I do want to do that, I just don’t want to appear to be doing that, even though I am. God Hates was definitely my favorite band out of all the openers that evening. Were they the tightest? No. Heaviest? No. Best dressed? I don’t know. I didn’t think to check. But what they for sure did have was lots of personality and a stage presence that draws you to them. They are as punk rock or thrash as they are hardcore, a crossover band of sorts, maybe because they have a few different nationalities in the mix and thus a few different genre influences. Bottom line: God Hates was a lot of fun to watch and I’ll be there with bells on when next they play. Or if not bells, then maybe a ... belt? I usually wear one. So I’ll say for sure that I’ll be there with a belt on, if not bells, because what the hell does that mean? Bells? Huh? No idea.
The final opener, the punks penultimate, were Monument X — Bangkok’s best known straight edge band, complete with their own crew of youths eagerly singing along. They’ve already had the honor of opening for Youth of Today at a past show and now Judge as well! There were a lot of bands who were in existence contemporarily with Youth of Today and Judge who would have loved to have been able to make that claim back then and never could … Yet the mighty Monument X of Thailand can proudly say that today! They’ve also toured SE Asia and played many a show locally (without any legends sharing the bill) — and their experience shined through. Polished and precise and perfect for the occasion.
And now, ladies and gents, I’ll talk a bit about … JUDGE . I never figured I’d get to see Judge play anywhere in the world — ever — much less Bangkok, a city I never figured I’d ever be in the vicinity of, prior to moving to the region anyways. I’ve actually got a Judge-inspired tattoo. Technically it’s a Twin Cities hardcore tattoo, one that I got later on when I was 19 or 20. It was semi-ironic, but only semi, because I did love Judge’s music. My roommate did the tattoo for free since he was apprenticing and he borrowed the crossed Judge hammers for old time’s sake and swapped out "NY CREW" for "TCHC." The irony came from the fact that I’ve never really been straight edge, really, in point of fact. I thought I was in the 9th or 10th grade but that didn’t last long. If you’re not now, you never were, they say. So, I never was and it doesn’t rank amongst my great regrets in life quite frankly. Despite that, I still loved Judge’s music though, ridiculously hardline lyrics and all.
I’ve seen plenty of reunion shows over the years. Reunion one-offs and reunion tours. I’ve seen bands do blatant cash grabs on an occasion or two. It’s pretty easy to spot a band that’s just going through the motions if you’ve got a large enough sample of past live show experiences to draw upon in order to make well-informed and nuanced critiques based on precise and detailed concert comparisons. And I do. Have that. Maybe. Probably. Definitely. Like many of you reading this do too. And with the severe hearing damage to prove it!
Believe it or not, my verdict— my judgement upon the show of Judge is this: Judge was not just going through the motions.
I don’t know what lies within the hearts of the likes of Judge or any other classic band that resurrects these roles they once played together in the past for the purpose of public performances. Who can say? But whatever their motives as individuals or as a group, they got up there and unleashed some of the energy, excitement, and joy that is part of hardcore at its best. It felt to me like the whole band put their whole selves out there. They tried. And largely succeeded on stage. But even if they hadn’t — it was more important for me to see them try. To know that they recognized what it meant to their fans and that they cared enough to try to give them the show they’d dreamed of. If they weren’t having fun, then I guess they’re better actors than they are musicians, because faking it that well should earn them all Tony Awards if that’s the case.
From the opening riffs right on up through the finale of “Warriors" followed by a cover of Youth of Today’s “Break Down the Walls,” Judge brought it hard, fast, and heavy. They may be old but they are anything but washed up. It was pretty much rad, the whole thing. I’m sorry that I can’t please any of the cynics out there who’d like to dismiss a Judge show in 2018 as just nostalgia for the codgers at the punk retirement home who haven’t listened to a new band in 20 years. Or those who would rather have me denounce it all as just a blatantly greedy money-grab. Sorry guys. I just didn’t catch that vibe at all. If I did, I’d tell you. I’m an opinionated asshole with a big mouth who is prone to offending people on a frequent basis, so trust me. If there was some reason to rip right into Judge and break them a new levee-hole over what I experienced, I’d have done it, because it’s what I do best.
Sorry the show was so much fun and you got stuck with my second best. I’ll look for something that sucks next time so I can ruthlessly eviscerate it for cheap laughs, I promise. On a side note, I wore a Drug Church shirt and hat to the show, because I’m a smart ass, and because they are one of my favorite bands and cool guys who always reply to me on Facebook. Since I was up front and in the mix, I’m happy to report that video does indeed exist wherein I’m up on stage repping Drug Church while singing along on the chorus of “Warriors.” Just the chorus though.
I never forget the warriors but I have forgotten the song’s extremely forgettable verses over the years. My brain only has so much capacity. Some things are permanently engraved but most things are not.
I didn’t figure sing-a-long’s with Mike Judge would ever happen to cause this dilemma because I never even remotely imagined that one day I’d be watching Judge. Play in Bangkok. In the year 2018. Can you blame me?
Special thanks to Yos, Chris Luppi, Charlie Smith, and Josh Hiram Banks for their help, info, guidance, and input on this article. Pics by Krisana Chokchaowat