Rocket Queen: Rock, Rock ‘Til You Drop

Between the Southern Lord and Seattle Founders Day Festivals, there's no rest for the wicked.

During the twilight hours in the mid-’80s between my immersion in classic heavy metal and my budding awareness of punk rock, I started to notice a particularly striking band logo showing up all over the place, meticulously outlined in pen on Pee-Chee folders or scribbled quickly as graffiti on my classmates’ lockers. It was a roughly rendered image of a spike-covered skull, which somehow looked both medieval and post-apocalyptic. Typically, whoever was behind the pen or Sharpie wrote the initials “C.O.C” underneath.

The band, of course, was Corrosion of Conformity. Formed in Raleigh, N.C., in the early ’80s, C.O.C. was many a young rocker’s gateway band to punk rock, thanks to the metallic rumble that ran beneath their hardcore surface. Though their first two albums, 1984’s Eye for an Eye and 1985’s Animosity, were raw-edged, true-blooded punk works, they began thrashing toward a slightly cleaner, but still brutal and aggressive, sound with 1987’s Technocracy—a trend that eventually culminated with the departure of original co-frontman Mike Dean and a full-throttle move toward the more metal end of the spectrum. 1991’s Blind got them airplay on MTV and an entirely different fan base.

Though Dean returned in 1993, the band’s trajectory, contemporary heavy metal over old-school punk, continued to arc toward a deal with Columbia Records in 1994, a brief run on modern-rock radio charts, a worldwide tour with Metallica, and a Grammy nomination for the single “Drowning in a Daydream.” In keeping with the fickle major-label politics of the time, Columbia dropped C.O.C. in 1996.

Fast-forward to 2009, and the original configuration behind Animosity has reunited for the Southern Lord Tour, which will roll through Neumos on Thursday, August 12. In support will be local label-mates Goatsnake and Black Breath. Dean is upbeat and audibly euphoric about C.O.C.’s third life as he chats via phone from Los Angeles, just after the band finished playing the Echoplex. “The show was very good,” he says as the after-party rollicks in the background. “I was surprised that were so many people here to see us.”

As for the band’s natural morph from punk to metal, Dean remains comfortable straddling both worlds, middle finger aloft. “We kind of started off as a hardcore band following in the footsteps of Black Flag,” he says. “But we were attempting to stupefy, anger, and alienate the orthodox punks by performing some music that was slightly different than they expected. We were taking the piss out of them by having a name like Corrosion of Conformity, which actually referred more to the [dogmatic nature of that] scene. I think we made ourselves famous by being a nuisance and aggravating people. It didn’t take more than a few heavy-ish measures in a song at that point to aggravate some people.”

C.O.C. is writing new material, and will be touring with a freshly minted 7-inch single, “Your Tomorrow,” pressed onto 180-gram vinyl via the Southern Lord label. A full-length is also in progress. “We’re finding our legs and getting ready to get back in the studio,” says Dean. The first 100 attendees at Thursday’s Neumos show will get a copy of the 7-inch, gratis.

While eardrums are being fractured at Neumos, the promoters behind Belltown’s Seattle Founders Day Festival will be preparing to throw a neighborhood party they hope will bring the area’s residents and business owners together to celebrate the downtown hood’s history and future. Sitting on the sun-dappled patio of the Rendezvous, the bar he’s co-owned for eight years with his wife Tia Matthies and partners Jerry Everard and Jane Kaplan, co-promoter Steve Freeborn reflects on Belltown’s curious demographics with a mixture of affection and bemusement.

“It’s a funny hood,” he says, swirling the ice in his highball glass and waving to employees stopping by to pick up paychecks. “There’s not a lot of kids. I think there are something like 36 children and 15,000 or 20,000 people. I don’t see them very often except to walk their dogs. That’s kind of an odd thing.”

Freeborn’s involvement with the festival is primarily as a programmer, booking bands he loves, like primal, percussion-driven Feral Children, classic punk purveyors the Cops, and mathy metalmongers Dog Shredder. The festival’s galvanizing force was Bedlam Coffee proprietor Ben Borgman, a recent transplant to the area.

“He came into town about a year ago and wanted to start a street-fair thing, and I was on it right away,” Freeborn says. “Tia and I have always wanted to do something like that. The city gave us [some money], which helped a lot. They were supportive of the community-outreach part of things.”

The stage will be at Bell Street and Second Avenue, and the streets from Battery to Blanchard will be closed. Local vendors, artists, and actors will occupy the space, purportedly emulating the neighborhood’s first street fair, which took place in the 1800s.

“Doing this fair has been awesome, because I’ve met every [business] owner around [this two-block radius], he says, sweeping his hand toward Second Avenue and over to Battery. “It’s going to be a good time.”