"You ask why I live like this?"
Davey Havok answered his own question at the Observatory on Friday–screamed the answer, in fact–into the faces of his unflinching fans.
The AFI frontman and punk rock torch-bearer, along with AFI guitarist Jade Puget, brought their straight-edge hardcore passion project XTRMST to life for two local shows this week.
The band opened their two-date tour with an evening at the Roxy in Los Angeles on Thursday before wrapping things up in Orange County 24 hours later.
The duo created XTRMST (pronounced like "extremist") to represent the straight-edge philosophy that they have lived by since their youth.
"Like much of the other subcultures we were a part of growing up, [straight-edge] put us at odds with 99% of the people around us, which was something we embraced," the band said in a statement. "It seemed natural that this crucial ideology would find a musical expression … this record is one of the most important we've made."
Havok and Puget – who also share another side venture, the electronic project Blaqk Audio – originally planned to release XTRMST anonymously, and toyed with the idea of giving cassettes away for free to would-be fans. Instead, the power of the songs and Havok's signature rasp led to a release on EDM impresario Steve Aoki's label, Dim Mak records, last November.
Now, fleshed out as a five-piece with drums, bass, and a second guitar, the band bashed through each song on their self-titled album over the course of a wild 45-minute set.
XTRMST opened with "Conformist," one of many rebukes directed at a culture that they portray as losing its soul to drugs and alcohol.
Havok's first lyrics of the night, "You're so wild/You think you're so wild," cut through a menacing crescendo and sounded like they were repurposed from an early Rage Against the Machine track. That moment passed quickly as the rest of the set stuck to a pummeling hardcore that recalled AFI's earlier, rawer releases.
It's hard not to compare XTRMST to AFI, since the bands share defining members and a fondness for the caps lock key. The new project rediscovers some of the jagged edges that AFI has sanded off over 20-plus years of increasingly melodic, arena-fied punk rock.
Havok seemed especially invigorated by the songs and the message. Sporting a black hoodie and a thousand-yard stare, he poured his heart–and other major organs – into the short set. He shared the mic with the front row as they screamed the songs back at him, and didn't even flinch when one stage diver slapped his ass before leaping back into the crowd.
When the album was released, Puget talked often about the creative freedom he and Havok had during the writing process, a passion that seemed to carry over on stage. The new band blew through razor-sharp riffs and abrupt tempo shifts with savage confidence, combining the courage of their convictions with ace musicianship.
Havok ended the set with a sheepish half-apology. "This is it… we don't have any more songs, we've played the record," he said before the band left the stage. "Thank you for joining us at the end of this tour."
Since the tour only lasted for two days and no more dates have been announced, XTRMST may have ended forever in Santa Ana last night. But if so, the band died as it lived – quick, loud, angry, and among friends.
Crowd Notes: The room full of we-wear-black-every-day hardcore fans seemed equally committed to the straight-edge ideology that XTRMST preached. There was almost no marijuana smell in the entire venue. (Almost.)