Date: Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Place: Reggies (2105 South State Street; Chicago, Illinois 60616)
Ticket Price: $20 ($25.94 after fees)
The Cro-Mags have a really interesting history. Founded in 1981 by a teenaged Harley Flanagan, the band is monumental in New York hardcore and crossover music with a legendary status surrounding the group stemming from their full-length debut album Age of Quarrel in 1986. In the past decade or two there’s been some legal issues with the band’s trademark, different versions and lineups of the band touring at the same time and performing the music along with conflict between the old members, seemingly going on forever. It would probably make a good documentary. A lot of drama overshadowed the band and the music. As of a few years ago it’s all been straightened out though with Flanagan now owning the trademark and the right to use the official name as the sole Cro-Mags on the road and putting new music out.
This was actually my fourth time seeing Cro-Mags but the first time seeing them with Flanagan in the band. I first saw them in 2017 with John Joseph fronting the band and Mackie Jayson on drums when they opened for Eyehategod, which they killed on. I remember the crowd being pretty crazy at that show. I saw them a third time in April 2019 opening for Obituary and Hatebreed but that time it wasn’t that great. On that show Joseph was the only guy actually tied to the old Cro-Mags days so it felt somewhat cheap and like a cover band. Flanagan’s heavy bass playing was also sorely missed on those shows. This current version of Cro-Mags has Flanagan as the only original member from the old lineups. It’s kind of like Megadeth, where Dave Mustaine is the band no matter who is in the lineup. Harley is basically the face of the Cro-Mags.
It’s weird seeing two versions of a band under the same name at different points in time. I don’t know how often that’s actually happened in music. I love John Joseph but this feels like my first time actually seeing a more authentic Cro-Mags. It really is like seeing two completely different bands with their own different energy to them. Even though Joseph isn’t singing on these shows, Flanagan already has a deep history of being on vocals for the band so it’s not really out of place for him to be the frontman. Those two guys in particular go so well together and it does feel like one piece is missing from either version of the band. I doubt they ever get back together for shows or another album either. That’s not even to mention ever reuniting with someone like Parris Mayhew who is an awesome guitar player, a founding member of the band and was another major reason why those old songs still sound awesome. Seeing Harley in person was on my bucket list of people/bands to see live though. I’ve never seen him before but have been listening to his music since I was in high school like over 17 years ago. I’ve listened to all those songs countless times. The Cro-Mags have always been one of my favorite bands ever since first discovering them.
The latest Cro-Mags album that released in June 2020 called In the Beginning is actually really great. I like it a lot. It’s the band’s first new album since Revenge in 2000 featuring Flanagan, Rocky George (Suicidal Tendencies) on lead guitar, Gabby Abularach on rhythm guitar (who played on some of the old albums) and Garry Sullivan on drums. That’s a pretty great lineup. It feels like the new album really flew under the radar. I would definitely put it up against their older material. It’s got a lot of killer songs on it. I was pretty surprised at just how good the record is, especially given how much time has passed from the old albums. Flanagan has been putting out solid new music the last few years, with other various singles and EPs now officially under the Cro-Mags name. He’s also done some big gigs lately like opening for the reunited Misfits on several of their shows and doing other festivals and tours too.
Age of Quarrel is a legendary album, one of the best ever made. It’s an album I can listen to all the time and never get tired of. I also love Best Wishes (1989), which when I first heard it drew me more to the Cro-Mags since I was deeper into metal and got into hardcore and punk a little later. Some of the band’s stuff afterwards from that period is pretty good too, like Alpha Omega (1992). The Cro-Mags should’ve been a much, much bigger band but it never happened. After the early ’90s they were essentially done and haven’t reached those heights again. This current Cro-Mags lineup has two new members, Hector Guzman on lead guitar and Dom DiBenedetto on rhythm guitar. Sullivan is still on drums.
I didn’t really know three of the opening bands on this show. They’re older hardcore bands from Chicago and I think all from the South Side. If I had to guess, most of the guys are probably in their late 30s and into 40s. Whenever I hear of Insult to Injury it reminds me of that album name and song from the thrash metal band Whiplash that released in 1989. It’s a pretty good album but has a cheesy cover of an injured metal guy in a wheelchair stuck on railroad tracks with a train coming at him. I had seen Crime Spree open for somebody several years ago. Si Dios Quiere is the only group I was at least more familiar with. I think the band has only been around for a few years. I always associate hardcore music with more of a youth movement. There’s a lot of great current and younger hardcore bands in the Chicago area and Midwest. For this show I would have went with putting younger bands on the bill, especially giving them exposure opening for Cro-Mags. It seems like wherever Cro-Mags played on this tour they got local bands to open for them there.
Reggies isn’t really known for having a lot of hardcore bands so I was curious how they would handle it. They tend to get a lot of great metal bands from all different genres. Hardcore shows are always a lot more animated than metal ones, with many people jumping on stage, stage diving, grabbing the microphone to sing along and stuff like that. Reggies doesn’t allow stage diving in the venue. I was wondering what kind of turnout this would be, if it would be more hardcore people or metalheads, given the type of venue and also the crossover appeal of the Cro-Mags.
It was raining pretty bad by the time I got to Reggies. I thought that might affect the crowd and the turnout. It was also really dark outside already, like near pitch black. I got into Reggies around 7:15 p.m. The show was supposed to start at 7:30. It took place in the bigger “Rock Club” area. When I get inside there was only a small crowd so far and not that filled up, maybe around like 50 people. They had some merch tables up and Cro-Mags had several band shirts but nothing related to the tour. There was a big show poster for this date that I wanted to get but they were all gone by the time I got back there after the show ended.
Crime Spree were good. I liked the singer. I’ve seen him around doing security at different spots like the Cobra Lounge and Reggies. I liked the band too. They did some good and simple hardcore/punk. At one point they had a South Side anthem. The song went something like, “We’re from the south side and we ain’t pretty, we’re from the south side of the Windy City” or whatever. It’s a good song live. Before one of their last songs they held up a black shirt that said “Back of the Yards” on the front, which is a neighborhood on the South Side. They definitely had a lot of South Side pride. It makes sense why a lot of hardcore bands would come from the South Side of Chicago. I’m surprised there haven’t been bands from there that became prominent on a more national level. Crime Spree did a lot of short and fast songs. The songs had good riffs and energy. The band were all tight together. They ended at 7:56. Here’s their Bandcamp.
By the time Crime Spree finished the room had a decent crowd and was like half packed with a lot of people. I Attack were good too. They started their set at 8:12. You could tell all four of the guys in the band were older. The drummer was going nuts the whole set. He was drumming incredibly fast, which was cool to see live. It didn’t seem like he was getting tired at all. Their drummer is very talented. The singer has a good personality. Early on in their set he jokingly told the crowd like, I didn’t put clean underwear on for you just to stare at me. Later on he was like joking that he needed a defibrillator because he was going to have a heart attack. He also poked fun at all the bands mentioning how they’re from the South Side. He told the crowd to play a game and take a shot every time the bands mention they’re from the South Side. He joked that his band were from Pilsen and he knows the rules to his own game.
I Attack ended at 9:43 after playing over 10 songs. I lost count of them. I Attack were very high energy. The had a pretty decent mosh going with several people involved. There was a lot of dancing and stuff too. They were a good opening band. I’m not sure how much music they’ve done or actually how long they’ve been together though but they still do a solid live performance.
Si Dios Quiere were the youngest band on this show. They’re a group of Hispanic guys, probably in their mid 20s. Si Dios Quiere ripped hard. They were great. They’re definitely a younger band to keep an eye on. The band’s guitarist was wearing a Death hat, so he likes great music and that’s a plus for me. It’s always cool to see that crossover. He was also wearing a Snuffed shirt, which is another current and awesome hardcore band from Chicago (go check them out!). When the band came on stage at around 9:02 a lot of people cheered for them, so they had some local support there. When they were starting up, the singer said we play hardcore music from the South Side of Chicago and if you don’t know, you about to find out. Yeah, we found out alright. They killed. Right away a big circle pit opened up on the floor and people got into it. A lot of the crowd did seem to know them. The band has that modern hardcore sound and vibe to them. All their songs had great riffs along with killer breakdowns and parts to dance to. Around the middle part of their set the singer said it was their guitarist’s and drummer’s birthday. The bassist lit two cupcakes for them and the crowd sang happy birthday, which was a cool moment.
There were a lot of young kids dancing, going hard and mosh dancing in the pit, like kids in their 20s. There was a pretty good sized pit going the whole set. On the third to last song a girl and a guy came on from behind the stage to sing with the band. I think they knew the band. Security or some dude in the crowd, I don’t know if he worked there or not, got all mad because these two people got on stage. I’m like dude, it’s a hardcore show. That’s what happens. That’s the problem when venues book bands from genres they aren’t used to and don’t know what goes down. It was cool to see that at least but otherwise the crowd was a lot tamer as far as stage involvement goes compared to other hardcore shows. The singer was really cool and had a lot of good energy, dancing along on stage with the music. I think they covered a Madball song or something near the end of their set. It sounded familiar. Si Dios Quiere ended their set at 9:25 after doing around 10 songs. The band is awesome. I loved their music and live energy. They were super tight. Here’s their Bandcamp.
At this point in the night Reggies had gotten really packed. It was a good crowd mix, with both hardcore people and long haired guys, both old and young. Insult to Injury were alright live. I wasn’t into them that much. They have actually been around since the early ’90s. I don’t know the band’s history or where they place at all. I checked out their old stuff on Bandcamp and some of it’s pretty good and sounded like early D.R.I. A lot of their later songs are just standard hardcore you’d hear from the ’90s and early 2000s though. Their really old stuff sounded nothing like this live performance. I don’t even know if it’s the same singer or band members. It kind of didn’t sound like the same guy doing vocals. A lot of people at this show seemed to know them. Insult to Injury started playing at 9:44. One of their guitarists was this bald biker looking dude with a pretty great mustache who asked the crowd how many outcasts we got. He then started chanting outcast family. I don’t know if that’s legit some group around Chicago or it has to do with the band. I think the first song they did was called “Outcast Family” or something like that, so maybe it has to do with the band’s followers.
Insult to Injury had a good mosh going the whole time. A lot of people did seem to know them and their songs. It seemed like they had a lot of fans in the crowd. A lot of what they did and talked about between songs seemed centered around their old music though. They played one song called “Off the Grid” that their guitarist said they hadn’t released yet but would be coming. It sounded like fast hardcore straight through then went into a breakdown part then picked up again. It again reminded me of D.R.I. at times. The last song they played was called “Decisions.” One of the guys was talking about the band Warzone and how their song came out in 1993 or 94. I guess Warzone was also on this compilation the song is from. Again though, that’s really dating the band and when they were actively putting new music out. The band’s drumming was very fast. The band’s live performance definitely reminded me of that ’90s hardcore sound. They ended at 10:13. I think they did a little over 10 songs. They were decent.
Cro-Mags were pretty intense this show. Before they got going I was kind of anxious to see how the crowd would react and if they would pop off like crazy. This crowd was a mix of metalheads and hardcore people and were pretty good all night. I’ve been at shows where the hardcore people go really insane. I also wasn’t sure because Cro-Mags are in a different universe compared to the other bands that played before them. For his age, Flanagan is still top-notch and performs at a very high level. Physically he’s in great shape. You can’t play this style of music otherwise. He plays bass like an animal and didn’t slow down the whole night.
Cro-Mags started playing at 10:44. Before getting into it, Flanagan said if it was half as crazy as it was back in the day then this night would be nuts. He was happy to be back in Chicago. They opened with “We Gotta Know,” which is basically the perfect intro song. During the song someone up front took the microphone and Flanagan got annoyed. After the song was done he basically said don’t take his mic or he’ll take your teeth. He also said don’t ruin the show for him because he’ll ruin the night for them. He came all the way here and didn’t want the night ruined. That was one way to start the set off. Harley definitely has an aura and presence about him.
The second song they played was “No One’s Victim” from the new album. They followed that up with another new track “From the Grave.” I think the fourth song was “2020” from the recent EP of the same name. All these were killer songs live. The fifth song was another new one called “PTSD.” Before playing the song Harley asked the crowd if they actually liked the new material or not and seemed genuinely curious about wanting feedback. He said he’s going to give us some songs from the past but he’s not living in the past. Afterwards they went into the older songs, mostly from Age of Quarrel mixed in with some others from several other albums.
Harley talked to the crowd a lot before some of the songs. I always like when people in bands talk like that. He said a lot of inspirational stuff about sticking to life and not giving up. His life story is pretty crazy and I honestly don’t know how this guy hasn’t died like ten times over already. He’s been there with this music since the literal beginning and there’s very few that can say that for any type of genre. He’s like a walking epitome of New York City too. It’s funny because he mentioned coming to Chicago back in the day, playing with Venom at the Metro (I think in March 1986) and another show with Motorhead (probably at the Aragon Ballroom in late 1986). He also mentioned playing at this place called Medusa’s. That club has been closed down forever, a few decades at this point. It used to be in the Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago. John Joseph told the same exact stories every time I saw him live too. Flanagan also joked he didn’t get any of the deep dish pizza from Chicago this time.
I really liked that Harley and this Cro-Mags are actually playing a lot of new songs while on the road again and there’s a big focus on them. He’s not just relying on only his old material or touring exclusively on Age of Quarrel. That was a problem with the other Cro-Mags line up. It was just old songs and more specifically from only one album in the band’s history. That kind of gets old. Other big New York hardcore bands like Agnostic Front and Sick of It All kept putting out new records, even though their classic material is what people mostly go to see them for. The other Cro-Mags lineup with John Joseph were supposed to make new music but that never happened. It’s a harder sell for that version of the band if they aren’t doing anything new. There must have been something holding that up because Joseph has put out new music and a few albums under his other band Bloodclot, as recently as the end of last year that are pretty good. The new Cro-Mags songs from Flanagan and the newer lineup sounded awesome live though. They fit right in with the old songs in the set.
They then did “Down But Not Out” from Best Wishes, “World Peace,” “Show You No Mercy” and “Malfunction.” All these songs sounded great live. Before “World Peace” Harley said he was 55 and feeling alive. It’s crazy to me he’s already 55. I always have this image of him in my head from the old days, probably since he was so young during those early songs and albums. For 55 years old he still plays this music the way it should be done. He hasn’t slowed down. “Down But Not Out” is one of their best songs from their more metal era. After those they also played “Steal My Crown” and “These Streets” from Revenge, which were really good too.
Harley started talking again afterwards and said Chicago is like New York in that it’s a really tough city. He said he did messed up things because of the people and environment around him. He wrote a lot of songs about violence because that’s what he was dealing with but he wasn’t glorifying it. The band wasn’t about being tough guys. He said if anything he was in pain and was taking it out on others and had no way to process what was happening. He said even someone really messed up can turn their life around. He said that he buried himself in drugs and alcohol and he’s not glorifying violence but it’s his confessions and his life story. He said the audience are his therapist. He also said he used to see a therapist who worked with combat veterans. She couldn’t handle him. He talked about how he’s spilling his guts through the music. All that he talked about seemed pretty honest and open, which I didn’t really expect from him.
They went into “Street Justice” and “Survival of the Streets” next. Before going into “Life of My Own,” Harley said the song was written by he and his best friend Eric Casanova (one of the band’s original singers) when they were 15 years old and the lyrics still meant a lot to him. He said as long as you die right with yourself then forget about everyone else. After that they did “Hard Times,” which is another great song for people to get into live. Harley gave the mic to the crowd and they sang along. Afterwards the crowd started chanting for Harley. He told the crowd that if they take one thing away from this show it’s to never give up. He said that if he can do it then anyone can. He talked about how his life was messed up in 2012 and had lost a lot. He said to make sure to tell someone you love them because it might be the last thing you do and it’s the most important. This is more stuff I wasn’t expecting out of him but it was a really positive message.
Flanagan’s vocals sounded good this night. I always thought his vocals on the Cro-Mags albums like Best Wishes and when he sang the Age of Quarrel material were actually pretty good and fit the music well. Garry Sullivan is on drums and was great. He’s an awesome drummer. The other new guys on guitar sounded good too. Harley kept up his intensity the whole show. The crowd was great the whole time too and really into all the songs. There was just really good energy in the room the whole set.
The last song they did was “Apocalypse Now,” a longer track from Alpha Omega that John Joseph originally sang on. It was cool to see Flanagan perform the song and it all sounded really killer live. The riffing on this song was awesome in person, especially the second half of the track that picks up pace with a guitar solo and great breakdown section. It’s an underrated and great song that holds up really strong live.
Cro-Mags ended at 11:42 and did like 16 songs. The rest of the band and Harley sounded tight together. It was a really great show and the whole band killed. Harley put a lot into his performance and didn’t phone in it. He was pretty intense the whole hour they played. If the Cro-Mags are going to still be around and active then it’s time to move forward with some new music and a new era for the band. I always see people comment it’s the “No-Mags” and all these other creative names for the band unless the lineup is only with all the old members together. Those Age of Quarrel days are gone and all those guys are probably never getting back together. You also can’t replicate the magic from that time period either. I like the current output of the new songs and the live show holds up too. The set list has a good mix of songs from different albums along with the new material that at least spans over the band’s lifetime.
After the show I bought a vinyl of one of the newer EPs called From the Grave for $15, which were signed by Harley and limited to 300 copies. They didn’t have any CDs or tour shirts. The tour shirts had apparently sold out even before this show. They had some other random Cro-Mags shirts for $25. One of Harley’s sons was working the merch area for the band, which was cool. He seemed pretty chill. It was raining pretty bad when the show got out so I had to bolt back to my car. I ended up getting sick a few days after this show too, which sucked.
I’m definitely looking forward to seeing this version of the Cro-Mags again and also hearing more new music from Flanagan and the rest of the band. It’s always going to be split among fans but for better or worse this is the Cro-Mags now. I think they’re still worth checking out, especially if you haven’t seen them before.