Cro-Mags revisit a brilliant past, wallow in same old shit

Catch influential hardcore band Cro-Mags at Backbooth

Cro-Mags revisit a brilliant past, wallow in same old shit
Photo by Danny X

CRO-MAGS with Ten Fifty, Coldside, Old Habits, Vices, Declared Ungovernable

6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11 | Backbooth, 37 W. Pine St. | 407-999-2570 | | $15

Bolstered by resurgent interest in thrash metal here and abroad, its hardcore antecedents are currently enjoying their own renaissance. This summer two different Los Angeles bands purporting to be Black Flag crossed the country on “reunion” tours, if you could call it that. Now we have Cro-Mags, an East Coast act that was nearly as influential, but beset by even greater internal issues that have perennially hamstrung them.

The band’s origins are an object of dispute between the core group – singer John Joseph, guitarist Parris Mayhew and bassist Harley Flanagan – who recorded their seminal 1986 debut, the prophetically titled The Age of Quarrel. However, there’s no disputing the power of the disc, which solidified the burgeoning genre’s blend of blistering tempos, searing metal licks and the impassioned howl of lyrics, with a big IOU attached for genre trailblazers Bad Brains.

Flanagan and Joseph actually met at a Bad Brains show in D.C., where the 13-year-old Flanagan was drumming for the opening act, NYC’s Stimulators. Flanagan had already published a book of poetry with a foreword written by family friend Allen Ginsberg, while Joseph spent his childhood in foster care and orphanages. At 14, Joseph graduated to living on the Bowery streets, going regularly to punk shows and hustling pot (he served a 21-months stretch at one point).

Cro-Mags first broke up in the early ’90s, reunited for the 2000 album Revenge, then broke up again. Five years ago, Joseph reformed the band and they’ve been playing periodically ever since – absent Mayhew and Flanagan – promising (without releasing any) new music. They’ve stayed in the news thanks to Flanagan, who stabbed two since-departed band members (and bit one) prior to a show at Webster Hall 18 months ago.

The mere mention of Flanagan’s name to Joseph produces a reaction reminiscent of chemistry-class explosions, er, experiments involving potassium and water. He vents for three minutes after barely managing a sentence in reply to earlier questions.

“I don’t talk about those dudes ever. I just do my thing; I don’t give two shits what those dudes do or say,” he says, but won’t let it go. “He hasn’t been in the band for a long time. I don’t care what he does at this point. But what he doesn’t tell everybody is that he’s the one that quit and we went on without him.” But he’s not done.

“If I were doing it for the money, which he claims, I would’ve done the reunion shows for 60,000 euros at a festival two years ago,” Joseph continues. “If you want to know why I’m not fucking with that dude, read my book. I don’t even want to waste two seconds talking about or thinking about him.” (Spleen adequately vented, Joseph all but blows off three more questions on different topics and peremptorily hangs up.)

Joseph’s gritty autobiography, The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon, relates a gnarly just-getting-by side of life with a dispassion that borders on hard-bitten indifference. Indeed, Joseph scams or cheats so many people in his book, it’s only fitting his beef began over Flanagan pilfering tour monies. There’s no honor among thieves, or apparently punk rockers rehashing Ferris Bueller-era music.

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