City of Caterpillar caught me at the perfect time, around 2003. I was going to shows where either skinny kids writhed around on the floor or giant bandana masked, basketball short-clad meat heads beat each other with spin kicks. One type of show so grossly maudlin, the other masculine; the music coming out of the Richmond/Sterling/DC scene felt pissed, tough but smart, expressive and evocative without veering into overly flowery territory. Right in the middle of all that was City of Caterpillar. Feeling like the best of both the driving anger of bands like Majority Rule and the slow weirdo build ups of the "horror" pageninetynine songs, they showed that not every song had to have a breakdown or rampant violence to foster release. They also showed that you could still be loose and airy in songs and bring them back to structured territory for pay off. I had more than a few friends find themselves lost in Godspeed worship days of aimless noodling. City of Caterpillar, thankfully, helped inform my love for music with some space to explore and build while still having force, bands like Hoover that I'd later go back and discover long after they'd ended.
I've spent the past 14 years thinking I'd missed my chance to see City of Caterpillar and Malady. The early 2000s were bogged down with college, limiting my ability to travel for shows and having no money. I'd gotten into City of Caterpillar just as they broke up; I wasn't able to make it to the show Malady played with Envy in D.C. a few years later. Both bands passed into the annals of screamo history. And then seemingly out of nowhere, they were back for a string of shows.
Both bands spent their dormancy revered as high water marks of the Virginia/DC punk scene, while the proliferation and bastardization of the term screamo came and went. Each band having put out an LP; one weird and winding, one fuzzed out and grungy, they stood as the outliers of the greater pg.99 family. Maybe it was the pg.99 reunion of 2011 that started the wheels turning, or maybe it's just the climate of music right now, but I'm grateful for whatever kicked off the idea to reactivate and play these amazing songs live again.
It was a great, strange trip to revisit Richmond, take in all the changes to the city, to see friends I'd not seen in 10+ years, to see friends I'd made at back in basements in North Carolina and friends I'd made in different basements in Boston all together sharing the experience of these two bands getting back together.
In addition to City of Caterpillar and Malady, Virginia Creep, Big No, and Bermuda Triangles rounded out the Richmond shows. Respectively playing fuzzy and heavy rock, weird groove pop rock, and percussion focused noise, they provided a fun and varied roster, and fit my recollection of Richmond being a town of great mixed bill shows.
D.C. featured a set by the ever evolving and wonderful Pygmy Lush. They filled half the set with new songs from a forth coming release featuring two basses during parts and decidedly much heavier than their acoustic permutation and much slower than their loud sets. The last half of their set was a few of their best acoustic songs, ending with the beautiful build up of "A Good Day to Hide." During City of Caterpillars set there was an extra special highlight, the appearance of the orange traffic barrel used to contain the shattering glass of the build up of City of Caterpillars song "A Little Change Could Go a Long Ways."
Back home in Boston, complete with one of those special "I've been around too many people while traveling" terrible sore throat and body ache combos, I caught City of Caterpillar for the last time. Kindling, a western Mass shoegaze band; with some members being those same friends from basements long ago opened and The Saddest Landscape followed. The crowd was notably younger and more subdued than the more southern crowds, but most stood in awe of finally seeing City of Caterpillar.
A funny observation, based on age and attendance of screamo shows during it's heyday, made itself apparent at the two Richmond shows. The first night was mostly an older crowd, many having been at these kinds of shows before in the early 2000s and before. These were the kids that remembered the charming and obnoxious "clapping part" element of many a screamo band from 2003. And they clapped. Frantically, off beat, and convulsing, just like we used to. The second night in Richmond, the first announced, was a younger crowd much more eager to sing along and stage dive. A reminder of how things change and evolve over time.
Seeing old friends, sleeping on couches, and revisiting some of the best music that came out of a peculiar and enduring scene of Virginia punks brought me back to the days of being in my early 20s, staying up all night for shows, cramming into basements, and spending all weekend with friends. During an off day in Richmond, before taking a late bus to D.C. we walked through the Hollywood Cemetery. Overlooking the James River we passed worn grave stones, melting snow, and a tiny plaque wedged in a hill of grass that read "Perpetual Care." It's not about digging up the graves, it's about stopping back by on occasion to tidy the place up and take a look around at the memories. Love your friends, die laughing... but not just yet.