Shellshag and Co Remind Us What Punk Rock Is All About


Of course, every punk show is special.  They get your blood pumping and make you feel alive in a way that’s both positive and creative but also a little bit rebellious and destructive.  Of course, that’s why we all do this – to scratch an itch that most other things just fucking can’t.  But, while of course, every punk show is special, some are still undeniably specialer.  You’ve ready Animal Farm?

This past Thanksgiving weekend, Volume IV in New Brunswick hosted Brooklyn punk rock OG’s Shellshag playing a show with Cincinnati anti-folk singer/songwriter John Hays, State Champion Records’ Sweaty, featuring label co-owner King Mike, and newcomers Torpedoes in their second show ever.  This show was one of the specialer ones.

Torpedoes opened the show to what was already a pretty full crowd and despite this being only their second performance as a band, they attacked it with an impressive confidence and charisma.  Self-described as “sloppy like wet velvet, loud like your worst fake O,” Torpedoes excelled at drawing the crowd into the show right from the jump and lead singer Val had everyone in the palm of her hand till the very end when they closed with a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.”  Also, to answer a question asked during the show, Nancy Sinatra is still alive and kicking.

After the show, I got to chat with Torpedoes drummer Corinne Dodenhoff about playing this show and sharing the stage with Shellshag.  “We had so much goddamn fun, it was incredible,” she said.  “We’re so grateful to be part of such a supportive scene.  Its some real ‘dream come true’ type shit.”

The next band to rock the house down was the Sweaty trio of Alex Holland, Jimmy Adamson, and King Mike, who while all three are veteran performers in bands such as Gulps, Sass Dragons, and the Screaming Females, were also performing together as Sweaty for only the fifth time.  These guys totally brought the mother fucking ruckus with songs from their first demo released over the summer as well as a few new tracks and were even joined by John Hays for their last song.

Hays took the stage with a completely transparent and honest stage presence, singing songs about vulnerability and doubt in between anecdotes about how he stole the show poster off the wall just because it had his name on it.  The openness of his music accompanied by speaking to the punk rock ethos endeared Hays to the New Jersey crowd, specifically in “the real world is nasty and gross but its great to have this place for friends to just have fun and create.”  Of course, its such a simple concept, but its reassuring to hear every time.  Hays new album, Backsider¸ is overflowing with accessible lyrics and vibes for anyone else who also “has no excuses for why life seems so hard.”

The show was brought to a close by the duo of Shell and Shag, who played a truly surreal set.  To get to see this band perform to such a small, intimate crowd in such a small space was a show experience unlike any other I can call to mind from recent memory.  The pyramid of monitors was set up in the center of the room with the two mic stands mounted to the top.  Shag plays only a snare and two toms with bells tied to her ankles and belt.  Shell plays guitar and together they sing.  The setup is remarkably unique and impressively minimalist and has still conceived ten albums and EP’s in the past several years.

But what makes Shellshag and their performances so special beyond their music in itself is their genuine passion, the example they set in the scene, and the role they take in supporting younger, less established artists.  Shellshag are lifers.  They’ve been in the punk scene longer than some of the artists covered in this blog have been alive, yet they attack every show, even the small ones in practice spaces in New Brunswick for a crowd of thirty people, with an energy and attitude that reminded me of a Screaming Females show I saw last fall in the attic of the Kilkenny Alehouse in Newark.  King Mike says, “for me, Shellshag represents everything that is good about being an independent artist.  It is inspiring to see a band do things on their own terms for so long, while helping to foster a lasting and supportive community of like-minded artists and musicians.”

So, be sure to check out Shellshag and the entire Starcleaner catalog, Sweaty and the entire State Champions catalog, John Hays’ new album Backsider, and Torpedoes next show at the Clash Bar, which is a benefit for the Passaic County Women’s Center because fuck yeah for good causes.