There was a feeling of history being made Saturday night in the stagnant, sticky air of the basement at J&J's Pizza. Minor Threat performed its first show in a basement, and other punk acts, such as Hüsker Dü, Black Flag and Social Distortion, all got their start in basements. In Denton on Saturday, it was the Razorbumps' turn.
After short sets from the Lung and eye-blackening performances by Houston’s Private Eye and Dress Code, Denton's Razorbumps stepped into the bricked shoebox, packed wall to wall with fans who had traveled hundreds of miles to catch a glimpse of the buzzy band.
A couple of monitors and loose cables cordoned off the stage, encouraging interaction between the audience and the performers. Listeners crammed in wherever they could find space — beside, behind or within the performance space.
The ceiling of J&J's basement punk venue, affectionately referred to as the Ol' Dirty Basement, creaked with every step taken by the patrons above. The temperature in the venue rose and fell with every hot body that came in or left. The speakers hung low enough to cut open the heads of unwary moshers who stood taller than 6 feet. A projector showing old movies served as stage lighting.
Razorbumps singer Jenn Smith carried with her all the brash sassiness of CBGBs-era Debbie Harry, wailing into her satin chrome-plated microphone with vivacity and menace. Accompanied by the spy-film-meets-spaghetti-western guitar shredding of Austin Waymire, the lock-step drum pounding of John Hodge and the rhythmic finesse of bassist Andy Messer, the band proved it is ready to break out of the basement.
Saturday's show was the record release celebration for Razorbumps' first LP, Hellrazors, available on iTunes and Spotify. Hellrazors offers better production value and more songs longer than one minute than Razorbumps' past releases.
All in all, it's more professional.
The band's 2016 demo, available on Bandcamp, was a display of adolescent angst that asked listeners if they wanted to get high. The Razorbumps are still fun, but they're also more serious. The song “Make Your Mark” stands out as a battle cry against the creative doldrums of so-called adulthood.
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“Yeah they say people change / I know people change,” Smith sneers on the record. “I guess I didn’t change enough / What more do you want from me? / What you see I’m not giving up!” The song’s chorus underscores the seriousness of the band’s mission: “If you want it all / Then what’s the point / Of growing up / Before you make your mark? / You better make your mark, girl!”
In this line of introspective questioning, one cannot help but hear echoes of The Who’s “Hope I die before I get old,” or the Dead Kennedys’ taunting gibe, “I'd rather stay a child. And keep my self-respect. If being an adult. Means being like you!”
In what felt like a forward-looking nod toward greatness, Razorbumps asked legendary Denton hardcore punk group Wiccans (now of Austin) to return to their humble origins and close the show. It was the first time many Denton punks had seen these heroes in a place they once called home.
The thought and effort that went into the album and the record release Saturday show that Razorbumps have the intelligence and skill to take a seat at the table alongside other great punk bands that have claimed Texas as their moshing grounds.