Friday, July 10, 2009

Withering Strands of Hope

Here we go with another one of our underrated Bay Area favorites: motherfucking Benumb.

I first met Benumb vocalist Pete Ponitkoff in the summer or fall of 1996 after a show at Lindee’s Bar & Grill in Concord. Being in a shitty punk band that rarely got shows, it was always nice to meet new people who were actually supportive and encouraging like Pete was, and still is. Some months later, I got to see Benumb for myself—at the same show where I first saw Excruciating Terror—and they quickly became one of my favorite local bands. In fact, when I was working on my first show booking at Gilman Street, Benumb was one of the first bands I called. Back then, the club’s bookers had an irritating propensity for bumping the smaller local bands off the show in favor of some touring band that you usually never heard of or cared about. Pete was aware of this. In a show of solidarity that is uncommon amongst virtually every band around here, Pete said that if anyone needed to get bumped, Benumb would volunteer to be that band so everyone else could have the opportunity to kick ass on the Gilman stage. Benumb had played the Slap a Ham Fiesta Grande earlier that year and weren’t hurting for shows the same way some of the other bands on the bill were. But nobody got bumped, and the show went on.

In January of 2000, I helped set up an entire weekend of shows to celebrate Pete’s birthday—two at Gilman Street and a Sunday matinee at Mission Records. We had bands like Capitalist Casualties, Morgion, Noothgrush, Progeria, Self-Inflicted, Exitwound, Lana Dagales, and Deadbodieseverywhere, as well as the reunited Plutocracy with their first show back on the scene. Somehow, everyone involved managed to keep the occasion a surprise until I made flyers and had to tell Pete what the deal was. The appreciation shown proved to me that we were doing these shows for the right guy.

Benumb weren’t about playing scene politics or being fashionable. If anything, they had to have been one of the most tragically unhip bands around here—their guitarist wore Korn shirts regularly, and even adorned his guitar with their stickers. Their blue-collar vibe should have been off-putting to most, but nobody in attendance could bring themselves to deny the brutality. Instead of trying to look cool or pretend to worry about the latest empty political causes, Benumb concentrated on playing hard, fast, and brutal music that would leave heads spinning in their wake. When Benumb started doing records with Relapse, I remember people claiming that they’d “sold out,” but nothing was further from the truth. Benumb never stopped playing shows in the underground scene, and the closest they ever got to big-time fame was the second stage of the Milwaukee Metal Fest. Nor did they ever treat anyone in the scene with any degree of wanna-be rock star arrogance or take advantage of anyone’s good will like some newer bands I won’t name. They even took the time to compile lists of contact info for similar bands for the Relapse crowd to check out, in the hopes of boosting the scene and broadening some horizons. If anything, Benumb were one of the only bands that deserved to be on a bigger label like Relapse at the time.

I could go on about Benumb all day long if I wanted to, but let’s get to this CD instead. Withering Strands of Hope was Benumb’s much-awaited second album. Unlike most sophomore efforts, this actually happens to be their best effort and captures the band at their peak. Around the time this was recorded, Benumb were far and away the most crushing band in the Bay Area underground, rendering the headliners and all other bands on the bill irrelevant. Remember that when you listen to this CD.

Let your hope wither completely away here.


Anonymous said...

this link is dead

The Evil Eye said...

Not anymore!