Early on into their “Asking For a Friend Tour”, American hard rock band Badflower visited Boston’s Royale, a 1,300 capacity night club that lies in the heart of the city’s theater district. The venue created the perfect atmosphere for the night, serving as a tightly-packed club with just enough room to breathe yet still feel the rising heat of the room. Badflower are no strangers to Boston, in fact it is their third trip here since the fall. However, they still rarely headline here, making this an even more exciting return. A triple billed show, audiences have plenty to anticipate and with a variety of rock styles, there are offerings for everyone (kids and parents included, and there were plenty in attendance.)
The night kicked off with British alt-rock duo Blood Red Shoes, comprised of Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansell. While a more composed unit, the pair graciously captivated the room with their sophisticated compositions and expert stage presence. They switched off on vocals, Carter crooning into the microphone with coy glances, and Ansell countering with passioned screams in between drum beats. The duo played seven tracks, a mixture of songs off their six releases. While a majority of the audience were not familiar with the Brighton-based pair, those who were into them made their voices known, much to the band’s delight.
The reserved indie rock of Blood Red Shoes was followed up in an entirely contradictory fashion, as New York rockers Des Rocs bounded onto the stage like bats out of hell. Frontman Daniel Rocco, adorned in his signature vampire-meets-Elvis chic, instantly asserted himself as a commanding presence. Their set kicked off with “HVY MTL DRMR” which they actually premiered live for the first time in Boston in 2019. Through a nine-song setlist, the band domineered the stage in a thrashing of red leather and blazing guitars. It was true, dirty rock and roll, only interrupted by sweet moments of bringing a child up on stage to introduce an unreleased song, “Brand New Moment” and a snippet of Boston favorite “Sweet Caroline”. By the end of their set, the crowd was truly primed and ready to go for even more hard rock and ferocious energy.
Badflower are a band that are truly at their best on the stage. Much of their discography translates even better when performed live, as the four-piece’s profuse energy bubbles to the surface and erupts in a way that studio-cuts don’t always fully embody. They took the stage to the opening track “Fuck the World,” a song that slowly builds into a hard hitting number. Coming together in their own quad centered around Anthony Sonetti’s drum kit, the band jams together in a personal moment that suggests they’re gathering themselves or having pre-show powwow before giving their all to their fans.
Frontman Josh Katz adorned a custom overall-style jumpsuit containing various Badflower relics. Patchwork of their debut album cover, song titles and other symbolic pieces are sewn and pinned across the garment. Combined with his array of tattoos that were on full display, he doubles as a human canvas for personal mementos and motifs.
They quickly jumped into This Is How The World Ends hit “Johnny Wants to Fight,” a tongue-in-cheek track calling on the dramatics of high school romances and jealousy, with typical, jarring Badflower lyricism. Katz’s rebellious stage persona fully came alive, as the song’s narration borders on manic and obsessive and plays with a variety of vocal stylings. Accompanied by Joey Morrow on guitar and Alex Espiritu on bass, they bounced around the stage, riling the audience up, in a whirl of flashing lights and pounding percussion that surely wakes everyone up– especially the kids in attendance that are way past their bedtime.
At one point in the set, a creepy demon baby doll is thrown on stage, and immediately used as a prop for the band who throw and kick it around stage. “No, I don’t want it! I don’t like it,” Josh laughed before dropkicking it. “You shouldn’t kick babies unless they look like that. Send it to Hell! Hey, nice to see you! How are you?” he greeted the crowd with a grin. The baby remained on stage the remainder of the show, propped up with arms in the air. (It really set the mood.)
“Don’t Hate Me” is a crowd favorite, with a chorus that practically demands it be screamed back in unison. As the set’s third number, it calls on established Badflower sounds and adds an amplified energy to the room. It was around this point when the crowdsurfing began, sending daring fans over the barricade. Sparking up bad memories, Josh scolded, “I was dropped in your city before. Your Dunkin’ Donuts drinkin’ asses. Boston, don’t drop people anymore, okay? Or we’re talking away your Dunkin’. We’re putting a Starbucks in place of every Dunkin’ if you drop people,” he laughed. Back in September when Badflower opened up for My Chemical Romance at Boston’s TD Garden, Josh was dropped for the very first time while crowd surfing. While he sustained very minor injuries, his pride took a harder hit. Let’s hope Boston shows aren’t forever tainted for him. “You twisted my wrist there!” a fan yelled, in which Josh sarcastically replied “Oh, sorry. Well you dropped me, so we’re even. Okay here’s a song.”
By the point of “Heroin,” “The Jester,” and “Ghost,” fans were already physically and emotionally spent, head banging and screaming their hearts out. “Move Me,” an early cut that only recently found mainstream success, is a crowd favorite and served as an emotive pallet cleanser in the set’s midpoint. The band left the stage to Josh, who emotionally sang the majority of the song solo with an acoustic guitar, but was rejoined at the breakdown of the track. Its viscerally atmospheric climax sent the band into a frenzy of noise, and erratic white lights, while both the band and fans reached a collective high before the comedown. It is a moment that feels ceremonial, and certainly culminates as a show highlight. The ballad’s induced emotional catharsis was only broken by the opening “Ohs” and hollers of “Drop Dead,” one of Badflower’s most hardcore live tracks. Seething with impassioned rage, the track is a blowout with a gnarly guitar solo and plenty of scream-worthy lyrics (Quick, pose for the vanity/ Clack-clack with your high heels/ Quit messin’ with the boy’s head/ Learn to love yourself, or drop dead). This is Badflower at their most berserk: Alex leaps around light as air, while Josh loses himself in the mayhem, Joey rips through fervent hooks, and Anthony skillfully keeps tempo in a beastly, unabashed manner.
“x Ana x” roared with equal intensity, and was set alight with a scorching breakdown. Unfiltered, ferocious and fun all blended together, this is what sets Badflower apart. Jumping into “Promise Me,” a fan favorite from 2019 debut album OK, I’M SICK, Josh cleverly replaced lyrics (I’m the happiest/When you smile at me) with “I’m the happiest when you don’t drop me,” a joke that lands well after previous discussion. The opening cries of the rebellious, aggressively manic track “Stalker” broke through the room, while Josh remained poised at the front of the stage, calmly looking out across the audience– the calm before the storm. As percussion and aptly timed lighting strike, the chaos of the song commanded the room. Jumping off the stage and disappearing into the treacherous sea of the audience, Josh performed the rap-turned-metal number within the crowd, who eagerly screamed back the accusatory, sardonic messaging. Badflower’s take on Eminem’s “Stan,” the song revolves around an obsessive character, with scathing lyrics and a deranged sound that jar listener’s into a frenzy. The song is intersected with a killer drum solo that builds in intensity, before the full band returned to stage still in character. While Joey improvised some classic guitar riffs, Josh walked on with a full-length mirror and red lipstick, stolen from Blood Red Shoes’ green room, to draw on a clown face. With a comedically timed frown, the song burst in its continued voracity.
Dropping the act in a moment of sincerity, Josh thanked fans as the show drew to a close, but of course not without a joke or two. “Thank you to everyone who knows who our band is and pays money to come see us play. Rather than question it, we’re just gonna say thank you and move on with our lives. We also urge you to come back and see us again. Will you come back and see us again?” he asked, spurring cheers. “Will you be kind to each other? Will you give Peet’s Coffee a chance?” That one didn’t go over as well.
The set ended with emotional rocker “Family,” and encore tracks “Wide Eyes,” a slow building banger, and “30,” an ode to aging via an angsty existential crisis, sated fans yet left them eager for more. There is an addictive quality to Badflower shows that seeps its way into the veins of every concert-goer. While they creep into shadows in their darkest moments, rather than isolating, they invite you in and project the mantra that it’s okay to be mad, ala the Mad Hatter. They counteract hard-cutting themes of loneliness, mental health, and other tribulations with the guise of a character exploring a variation of convictions, with earnest sincerity, and with jokes seeping in dark-humor and self deprecation. While life can be overwhelming, Badflower are here to remind us not to take it all so seriously, but if we’re going down, at least we’ll go down rocking.
Blood Red Shoes
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