7/11/14- Ralph’s Rock Diner

A giant crocodile head mounted over the men’s room gazes unblinking at the sweaty bodies soaring off the stage. An eerie statue of Einstein lurks above the churning mosh pit pointing a chipped finger, as a shirtless man swings from the lighting rig high above the crowd. Green cardboard is glued to the tops of pillars coated with faded band stickers, transforming the dance floor into a crude tropical rainforest. A mannequin’s ebony legs protrude from a brick wall, outlined by a white neon light shaped like a coffin. These decorations, which ranged from retro to kitschy to flat out creepy, only scratch the surface of the offbeat dive bar that is Ralph’s Rock Diner in Worcester.

Last Friday’s sold-out show paired local melodic hardcore veterans A Wilhelm Scream headlining with prolific Canadian pop-punkers The Flatliners opening up. Both bands released highly praised albums last fall, each earning a top ten spot in the widely disputed Punknews Best of 2013 rankings. Along with their recent surge of popularity, both groups have also become close friends over the past few years. They watch each others’ sets from the side of the stage, gleefully singing along to every word. Having the two bands play together for the first time ever in Massachusetts would no doubt make for an unforgettable summer show.

It was no surprise to see the floor looking packed over capacity as The Flatliners took to the stage. Even before their opening set, locals remarked that this crowd was easily the biggest they had ever seen squeezed into the tiny room above the diner. As frontman Chris Cresswell launched into the band’s newest single, “Caskets Full,” mohawks and studded jackets alike began bobbing around the circle pit.

Cresswell’s raucous wails rarely faltered over the band’s gritty mix, but in general the band seemed to lack their usual off-the-walls energy. Gearing their setlist towards newer, more mid-tempo tracks like “Count Your Bruises” and “Tail Feathers,” the vigor of the circle pit gradually slowed to a lukewarm halt. Despite this, the highlight of the set was seeing A Wilhelm Scream lead singer Nuno Pereira make a surprise cameo to sing during the caustic “Shithawks.

But if the sweat-drenched mob looked spent earlier, it must have been because they were saving their crazed intensity for A Wilhelm Scream. Grinning back at a room packed with faithful fans, the five-piece band erupted into the final song off their new album, “Born a Wise Man.” Immediately bodies began plunging off the two foot stage into the crowd, sometimes landing on crowd surfers or unsuspecting concertgoers. Fan favorites- like the comically titled “Me vs. Morrissey in the Pretentiousness Contest (The Ladder Match)”- ramped up the crowd’s exhilaration, as people began lifting the crowd surfers higher and higher toward the steel lighting truss on the ceiling. Before long a half dozen people wanted to try out the newfound monkeybars.

Sadly the venue staff and bartenders weren’t nearly as amused by the impromptu gymnastics, as they kindly escorted some of the perpetrators outside. “Hey guys, we just got told if you keep hanging from lights they’re gonna shut the power off, and none of us want that right?”  Pereira appealed to the swarm, chuckling. Once the show resumed, A Wilhelm Scream sounded as tight as on the record, if not even better. Their set included 18 songs spanning from their newest record, Party Crasher, all the way back to band’s first official release, Mute Print. One of these deep cuts, “Anchor End,” sounded better than ever, showcasing lead guitarist/vocalist Trevor Reilly’s natural ability to connect with the audience. Reilly wore a silly but sincere grin all night, as he sang along to every word, often forgoing the microphone to scream with the front row. Despite his role as the primary songwriter for the band, he passes most of the vocal duties to Pereira, whose gruff barks were blasted through the mix, sadly drowning out most of Reilly’s excellent harmonies. Thankfully, Reilly’s whirling metal guitar leads broke through the fuzz, inciting waves of headbangers.

As the set drew to a close around one in the morning, the group broke out into a string of their most popular material. Among these final songs was five minute hardcore masterpiece “The Horse,” which exhibited the absolute mastery of bassist Brian J. Robinson. Since joining the band in 2007, Robinson’s virtuosity has undoubtedly served as a catalyst for A Wilhelm Scream’s recent surge in popularity. The audience was glued to his spot onstage all night, struggling to follow his fingers as both hands tapped and swept furiously across the bass neck.

After the last song, the house lights were turned on and the bands shuffled offstage with thumbs-ups and hearty smiles. But the devoted spectators weren’t satisfied as cheers for an encore echoed across the floor. Sure enough, and to the dismay of the Ralph’s staff, A Wilhem Scream trotted back onstage for one last song. “We Built This City! (On Debts and Booze)” reignited the masses on the floor as half-full beers were flung from all corners. Before the final chord was played Pereira made sure to take a dive of his own amongst the mock palm trees. Both the mic and his trademark hat with the upturned brim were lost in the shuffle as friends and fans met him with sweaty embraces.

As the horde of punks and hardcore kids poured out of Ralph’s the staff looked relieved to be rid of the chaos. Despite the lighting truss fiasco, this hidden gem of a venue with all its quirks was the perfect location for taking in an intimate concert. With no barriers or bouncers up front, and A Wilhelm Scream performing in their utmost prime, the off-the-chart intensity of this concert was unlike any other I’ve seen recently. It’s safe to say this one go down as a true summer classic.

Sweaty Stage Dives: A Wilhelm Scream
Pros
  • Insane crowd energy to the point of breaking things
  • Setlist spanning all albums, the band was super tight
  • Ralph's is both eccentric and intimate, perfect setting for the show
Cons
  • Some intstrument/vocals inaudible due to unbalanced mixing at venue
  • The Flatliners energy felt surprisingly flat
9.2Overall Score

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