Several people got to see Downtown Boys in Denver at the Summit Music Hall opening for Prophets of Rage for that Rock Against the TPP kickoff concert on July 23, 2016. Lucky them. The Providence, Rhode Island band made its return to Denver on August 19, 2017 at Larimer Lounge in the wake of the release of its latest album, Cost of Living. The title suggests layered meanings with considerations of a living wage in a world dominated by late stage capitalism, but also the cost of living in the world we live in both externally and internally, the emotional and psychological cost of having to make your way in a civilization that seems hostile to not just creativity but any modes of being not tied directly to a narrowly conceived profit motive–and the impacts of such on every aspect of your life. But Downtown Boys also weave narratives of how to resist that erosion of humanity without being a downer. On the bill that night were Denver bands Bleak Plaza and Surf Mom as well as Los Angeles-based No Wave psychedelic, Latin funk band Sister Mantos.
It’s rare that a band can live up to even a fraction of its hype. Even if you saw live footage on YouTube or elsewhere. Even if you saw the interview Downtown Boys did for Democracy Now in February 2016, it simply didn’t prepare you for the actual experience of what Rolling Stone’s David Grossman in 2015 declared “America’s Most Exciting Punk Band.”
From the beginning, Victoria Ruiz was the kind of front person who commands attention. Between songs engaging with the crowd in mini-treatises on the condition of the world today in a way that felt like a great friend you hadn’t seen in a long time might talk to you in a very real, poetic moment. The songs, blistering post-punk with an exhilarating dynamism that I’ve only before seen when witnessing The Gang of Four in 2005 on its reunion tour, Fugazi in 2001, The Gossip in 2006, Ponytail in 2008 and Refused in 2012. That kind of punk that sweeps you up not only in the music but in what the music is about, what it represents at that time when a lot of music feels phony and devoid of anything but entertainment value.
When Ruiz spoke, every time it felt like she was cutting right to what’s ailing the world from the racism, sexism, homophobia, all other misplaced phobias, inequality, the perils of manufactured boredom and violence. Among other subjects too varied and eloquently spoken to recreate hours after the fact. Downtown Boys fused the excitement of a punk band not limited by the tropes of the genre, willing to use dynamics and sounds that you know won’t be quaint years from now. By the end of the show, Downtown Boys struck me as the perfect band at the right time with the most on point message presented in the most exciting and riveting fashion imaginable. One has to think this show must have been what it was like to see Public Enemy circa Fear of a Black Planet but addressing a wider and different set of issues but in a more challenging time in American history making Downtown Boys not only one of the most exciting bands in the land but also one of the most important.