Hardcore does not have many homes in Sacramento, but Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub is the last venue expected to house a Trash Talk homecoming show. You go to Harlow’s for an aging indie rock show or the rap counterpart where there are fists in the air, but never gunshots. The only danger on the 28th block of J Street tends to billow into the street after a fight is broken up at Bar West.
For many, Monday night’s Trash Talk headlining show was building to an impossible expectation. The idea that “we’ll be mobbin’ in the middle of J Street” or something to that effect was implanted in my ear a week prior. The makings of such an event felt possible. Not purely due to Trash Talk’s reputation, but in part to former Sac-native-turned-Ninja-Tune-signee Lee Bannon and New York City’s experimental rap trio Ratking arriving in tow. Each performer specializes in a variation of tension and anxiety, expelled and absorbed into a head bang in solidarity, fist pump, or an all-out pit.
It never quite got to mobbin’ in the street. There was no riot against the establishment. It wasn’t a sold out night, so the numbers that inspire invincible groupthink weren’t there. Mostly, Harlow’s hired the extra muscle to damage-control the few hundred in congregation.
Still, the night was not without event.
When Trash Talk took stage, frontman Lee Spielman set the tone: “I better see some fucking stage dives.” He challenged Sacramento immediately, that challenge being: Don’t make me regret coming home.
The instigation swelled, which is the undercurrent of Trash Talk’s success. Spielman puts himself in harm’s way, as much as he orchestrates the pit like a symphony. He didn’t set rules or boundaries, nor did he back down as a performer. He instigates, but does not belittle in the process. We’re never pussies, but we’re challenged to give him more nonetheless.
The extra security, like any poorly trained and misinformed peacekeepers, were the agitators. They were out of their element and given orders to remove anyone who stage dived—a serious miscommunication considering Spielman’s opening address. This could have soured the night, but it didn’t. Yes, there were people removed who berated security from the sidewalk with threats like “you think because you’re ex-military, I can’t fuck you up? Come find out.” But it only amounted to loud threats. The end.
Back inside Spielman wised to the situation and handled it. Lee stood center stage, not as a skinny longhair still clinging to adolescence, not the punk this city raised, but as a man returned who’s seen enough to shit to know how to deal with a security team that’s overflexing. It was like witnessing an actual Jedi mind trick as he stood midsong with one hand gently directed in security’s direction, palm down to assure them it’s time to cease their tactics. His message: You’re the disturbance.
“We all know how this works,” he said to the crowd after pausing the set. “If somebody stage dives you catch them. If someone falls, pick them up. Knock a guy down, help him up. Don’t be disrespectful. We can police ourselves. So security needs to back the fuck up and let us handle our own.”
And so they did. The muscle recoiled to the carpet, promoter Brian McKenna acted as buffer between the hired and the hardcore, and Trash Talk launched into “Sacramento Is Dead.” Sixteen stage dives happened in two minutes. Bodies somersaulted; otherwise collected members of the community were seen immersed in the pit; large bodies pushing 200 landed securely like trust falls at a company retreat. Spielman lost his mic, but at the refrain those three visceral words exhaled from the scrum.
Trash Talk played a homecoming show. Perhaps the first of many, but this first one will be remembered for the intimacy. We’ll remember it because no one played it cool and everyone was a 16-year-old renegade again. The only missing elements were actual teenagers. It was the lament of the night: To be 16 and witness a show like that is the type of awakening that can alter a kid for the permanent better. Still though, I’ll take the looks on the faces of Midtown mavens feeling young again.