Ceremony never plays an encore.
That didn’t stop the packed house at The Chapel from stomping their feet until the floor of the converted mortuary shook last Sunday. Still, there was something lukewarm about the energy compared to the riotous thrashing that had ensued during Ceremony’s one and a half hour set. That’s because most of the people on the sweat-drenched floor knew that the five piece group would not come back and give them what they wanted. They knew this because they have followed this band’s music, from their roots in abrasive hardcore to their more recent plunge into muted post-punk, with a cultish enthusiasm for over a decade.
After five-minutes of misdirected anticipation in the hope that Ceremony might play their first encore ever, lead-vocalist and frontman Ross Farrar stepped back onto the stage. Wearing his signature black Levi’s and white-t over tatted arms, he could have been mistaken for any member of the audience at this specific concert in San Francisco. But Farrar had just spent the last hour heaving twenty-something year-olds off the stage and orchestrating the violent procession that is a Ceremony concert.
His sympathetic voice was strangely disparate from the raw sound that had just presided over the songs on their set — undulating from caustic shouting to the detached 2nd person of their most recent project, 2015’s The L-Shaped Man (“When you try to fall asleep tonight / remember who’s here with you / Everyone you ever knew”).
“I’m just practicing my public speaking,” Farrar said, almost apologetically, “I start teaching classes for undergraduates at Syracuse next week.”
Farrar, having graduated from UC Berkeley with an English degree in 2016, is currently getting his Poetry MFA at the private university in mid-state New York. As he left the stage for good, his words seemed to betray a hint of uncertainty as to when or whether Ceremony would be playing again in San Francisco in the foreseeable future. The band will wrap up their sporadic Your Life In America Tour this May with three consecutive shows in Los Angeles and have yet to announce later tour dates.
The mild disappointment of the news was overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude by the many Ceremony loyalists. Before the show, many of them had approached Farrar at the bar, shaking his hand and catching up as if they were old friends. Farrar, cigarette tucked behind his ear, greeted each of them warmly although they had probably never met. Some of the strangers suggested a song to add to the set list, others offered to buy him a beer or slipped him a suspect envelope as a token of their thanks.
The night featured fantastic opening acts by The World, Marbled Eye, and Nothing, but Ceremony was clearly the highlight, in part because it was the show fans had been waiting for all night. From the first grating chords of “Hysteria” (off their 2012 garage-punk album Zoo) the head-bobbing crowd was transformed into a thrashing mosh pit of stage-divers. It was clear that a Ceremony concert was more than a listening session; it was a very physical experience. Quite impressively, the band could continue delivering a bulletproof set given the virtual dogpile that erupted on stage every time they played loyalist favorites like “Kersed” or “Violence” off their earlier discography. Farrar handled the chaos masterfully, not missing a beat when the microphone slipped into the crowd or a belligerent teenager wrangled his neck.
With the exception of the slower, interiority-ridden tracks off their most recent album, the concert commenced as a relentless circus of mic-grabbing and flips off the small stage. The band, which started as a late-adolescent project between school friends in Rohnert Park, knew exactly how to play the Bay Area crowd that they have come to know intimately since the release of their first LP in 2005 (Violence Violence). In fact, the tour itself seems to be a handpicked assortment of their favorite small venues, furthering the close-knit intensity of the experience with their fans.
“We have never done encores,” said bass player Justin Davis after the show, “It would just feel weird to start now.”
One can only hope that, in the midst of navigating higher education and wedding rings, this object of California punk obsession will return to play another show for an eager and fiercely loyal hometown crowd.
Article and Photos by John Lawson