Madball with Comeback Kid, Cruel Hand, STAY and Pay at the Pump
6 p.m. Thursday
The Conservatory, 8911 N. Western
$14 advance, $15 door
When it comes to hard-core punk, few characters are more essential than Freddy “Madball” Cricien. The younger halfbrother of Agnostic Front’s Roger Miret, he was close at hand when this particularly aggressive strain of punk took off in the mid- to late-’80s.
Siblings with different fathers, Cricien lived in Florida, far from the bustle of Miret’s New York. But his older bro would write, telling 7-year-old Freddy about the scene, making music and touring. Before long, Freddy was riding along during Agnostic Front tours. He eventually moved to New York and, in 1989 at the age of 13, started his own band, Madball, with Miret and Agnostic Front guitarist Vinnie Stigma.
Aside from an 18-month hiatus, Madball’s kept going strong for the next two decades, staying true to hardcore’s fiery soul. The group plays The Conservatory Thursday.
Because of Cricien’s throaty growl and the music’s natural pace, Madball’s sometimes described as “tough-guy” hard-core, as opposed to the politically minded and emo camps. But to Cricien, such distinctions aren’t just unfair, but alien to the genre’s initial spirit. When you say “hard-core,” many picture a heavily pierced and tattooed skinhead wearing Doc Martens in a mosh pit. But at its genesis, it wasn’t so exclusionary and cliquey.
“It started with people from all sort of walks of life coming together at a show somewhere and finding some common ground. Different political views, different religious backgrounds, upbringings. Some street kids, some suburban kids,” Cricien said. “It’s a shame people have started to build all these walls. … I don’t like to put up walls; it was never about that.”
Not that he’s denying the agro undercurrent. Indeed, with its hard stances and fierce ethos, it recalls another of Cricien’s loves, formed in the streets of New York around the same time: hiphop. He’s always been fascinated by rap, and in 2009, released a hip-hop debut, “Catholic Guilt,” with DJ Stress.
“At the end of the day, it’s street music,” Cricien said. “So with both genres sort of out of necessity, there was always an element of having to be protective of each other, of their thing, of their territory. So there’s always going to be a little bit of machismo. But it’s always goofy when it’s overdone from anyone in any aspect.”
Madball’s latest, “Empire,” possesses a little of the politics that spilled almost abruptly out of 2007’s “Infiltrate the System.” In the past, the group primarily concerned itself with behavior, character and personal ethics. The album itself is grittier than the more polished “Infiltrate,” although Cricien couldn’t be happier with it.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous about our approach to this record, but when it was all said and done and we went into the studio, I was really happy with the way we executed it. I think we need that kind of pressure with this band,” he said. “I think it’s one of the best releases we’ve had in a long, long time. It’s the best in my opinion, but everybody says that.”
As we see a resurgence of interest in ’80s music, even down to thrash, Cricien’s happy to see the style’s forefathers get their due. In Europe, the appreciation’s particularly fervent — “I don’t know why; that’s just the way it is,” he said — but even here, the tide seems to be rising.
“Hard-core is a funny thing: It comes in waves. Certain bands have been riding the waves for years,” he said. “Agnostic Front, Sick of It All, they deserve to be acknowledged and recognized. Bands that work hard and have been at it for a long time and are still doing good things, they deserve to see some good come back.”
Add Madball to that list.