Memories of the first Shelter show at The Anthrax, Summer 1990.
By Graham Land
Some shows are just shows. Others are events. The first time Shelter played definitely belongs to the latter category. It was like the initial battle of an ideological war within hardcore; a struggle between those who hated religion and wanted it kept out of the scene, and a new breed of straight edge evangelical Hare Krishnas, led by Ray Cappo. It may sound a little silly or hard to believe now, but it really did feel like that! Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll had put out their infamous “Inside Ray Cappo and the Krishnas” issue the previous winter featuring Tim Yohannan’s confrontational interview with Ray, plus a host of other articles digging up as much dirt and hearsay about the Krishna movement as possible. It was a real piece of yellow journalism on their part. Of course on our side we had Kalki’s The Razor’s Edge and Vic DiCara’s Enquirer, two examples of philosophical, heavy-handed religious propaganda in their own right.
The anti religion set (I think they had some connection to the band Born Against, but I don’t really know) came to the Anthrax armed with with flyers and pamphlets, one featuring graphics equating the Krishnas with Nazis. Seriously, it had SS symbols and swastikas next to the The Razor’s Edge tilak logo. When Inside Out was on stage, Zack de la Rocha (who wasn’t into Krishna himself) voiced his support for us, held one of the flyers up and with that intense look in his eyes, screamed “This is fucking bullshit!!!” The band went straight into “No Spiritual Surrender” and some of us who knew the song jumped on stage and piled on the mic. That wasn’t something I did very often, but hey, it was an inspiring moment.
One thing I remember is this fake Hare Krishna guy playing a tambourine and wearing one of those bald wigs with a hole cut in the back, big enough for a pony tail to stick out. He was just joking around, but I’m a little ashamed to say I felt a tinge of satisfaction upon seeing Gus Straightedge stage dive onto the guy’s head, putting the kibosh on his fun and games. There was a lot of excitement and tension in the air that night, even a sense of persecution, but overall it was a positive experience and I don’t think that anything particularly nasty happened. Another funny thing was that one of the bands, I think Bad Trip, had a gymnastic trampoline on stage so kids could do these mega stage dives. That’s the kind of thing you only see at a hardcore show.
Prior to the playing there, I didn’t know much about the Anthrax club other than that it was where Perfection of Desire had been recorded on a portable 8-track. A couple of months earlier we’d played the No Compromise material before a Judge set at the Safari Club in D.C., as a sort of impromptu performance, but besides those two songs, I’d never played a show before.The Anthrax was the kickoff for a U.S. summer tour along with Quicksand and Inside Out. It’s kind of surreal to think about it now; being a gawky, seventeen year-old nobody from the leafy suburbs of Washington and somehow ending up not only playing guitar for the main act on the hardcore tour of the summer, but also simultaneously learning about Indian spirituality from swamis and monks and visiting temples across the country. In retrospect, I have to say that those two things don’t fit together all that well. I didn’t really get the full experience of either, though what I did experience was something novel:
The tour was like no other in history: an old California mass transit bus converted into a Hindu temple on wheels and manned by monks, a motor home with another swami and then two vans; one for Shelter and Inside Out and the other with Quicksand, who more or less kept apart and did their own thing. In Ray and Vic you had these larger than life personalities, real “men on a mission”, ready to convert the hardcore scene. The Inside Out guys seemed like California surfer dudes until they got on stage and just went wild. Quicksand were these serious rock musicians, grown up out of the New York hardcore scene. I remember thinking of them as a kind of gothy Jane’s Addiction. Shelter was rounded out by Sam and Porcell (who fought and played around like teenage brothers) and Yaso, a 34 year-old carpenter who lived with his wife and baby in a house on the grounds of the Potomac temple. And there I was, uncool, inexperienced and inept at using my musical equipment, playing shows or going on tour, but because Ray and I were good friends and worked well together he gave me a chance. I really owe a lot to his friendship. I also had big dreams and ideals in those days and I wasn’t scared of anything. I wanted to be part of something special. I think I had that in common with the other guys from the D.C. hardcore contingent who came along; Big Adam and Glenn. It was almost like we’d been recruited from the same small town and gone off to join the army together.
Even though it was the start of this big Revelation Records tour, none of the band’s records got released in time. Imagine starting a major tour with zero material to support it. That’s kind of how it was back then, but I have to say, a lot of kids knew the songs anyway. Not just in Connecticut, but on the whole tour. I found out later that the tape I’d lent to Ken Olden, (who only lived two blocks away from where I grew up) got copied and passed around like crazy, even though he’d promised not to give it to anyone. Ray had also leaked some copies himself, so I don’t feel that bad about it and in the end it made the shows better. It was like the file sharing of those days, but limited to a sort of inner circle of scenesters.
After the Anthrax, we thought all the shows on that tour were going to be similarly confrontational; political punk atheists vs. Hare Krishna straight edgers, but oddly enough, none of them were. I guess it was like they’d made their point and weren’t going to keep harassing us. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with atheism as I more or less grew up with it and identified with it more than I did with most religion. However, I was part of the Krishna crew and didn’t like that these people were saying that we, or our ideas, weren’t welcome. It was hardcore, everyone should be welcome, right? I mean we weren’t Nazis, despite what those absurd agitprop flyers said. Looking at the video on youtube and hearing those guys yelling “go back to the airport” after the first song totally brought me back. It was like experiencing social history, having the opportunity to witness when something new blasts on the scene and everyone’s got an opinion about it. That tour and that show were the beginning of a significant movement within hardcore, which in our little corner of the world, really meant something.