Thursday, October 30, 2014


In the universe, there is one absolute law. Doesn't matter if you call it karma, yin & yang, or Newton's law... it's all the same thing. The gist of it is that the entirety of existence is predicated on duality. Underdog's Richie Birkenhead is a microcosm for this duality.

On the one hand, you hear Richie's vocals on Underdog (and especially later on Into Another) and you comment on how beautiful his voice is. If Eddie Sutton had a colleague, as opposed to a contemporary, in vocal stylings, it was Richie. Richie's vocals stood out amid the sea of NYHC bands during Underdog's tenure particularly because of the band's grasp on melody. While other vocalists were trying to punch you in the mouth and drive it down your throat, Richie was the happy medium. He had the harsh nuance of a Raybeez while also possessing the harmony of a Sutton.

To help the band's sound was bass player Russ "Wheeler" Iglay contributing heavily. One of the more unique aspects about Underdog, compared to the other NYHC bands of the day, was the dominant presence of the rhythm section in the band. When we think of NYHC we often think of Stigma, Walter, Parris, Doug Holland, Todd Youth, AJ, and a slew of other famed guitarists. Seldom do we offer high praise for the bass player. When you listen to Underdog, you're hearing Wheeler's control as much as you are the rhythm. This is not to say the guitar work is not exemplary, because it is. Rather than try to write something aggressive or charged up, Underdog's music lets the guitar slide in to complement the grooves from the rhythm section to craft a very specific sound. When you listen to Underdog, you're not confused about who it is.

The duality of Richie Birkenhead is this: for as beautiful as his voice is, he is completely out of his mind and is arguably one of the most intimidating personalities in NYHC history. The most notable Richie story (and this is not an urban legend, this actually happened) tells how Richie's girlfriend got crossed outside of CBGB during a show. Richie went outside and confronted the guy. The guy stabbed Richie in the chest with a screwdriver. Richie shook it off and still beat the shit out of the guy. After finishing the fight, Richie went inside and proceeded to play a show with Underdog. Years later, while with Into Another, Richie was interviewed by the Anti-Matter Zine. One of the questions Norman Brannon asked Richie was how he responded to critics calling him a sell-out for Into Another signing with Hollywood Records (a major label). Richie's response was straight forward enough. He told Brannon that his critics have never been stabbed in the chest with a screwdriver, know nothing about what paying their dues in hardcore actually means, and that he had earned the place he was currently in.

While Richie is a case for duality, Underdog is a case for equilibrium. They were the bridge band for what NYHC had been and where NYHC would be going. Not long after Underdog, much of the first wave of NYHC converted to other styles. Some became crossover acts, others became post-hardcore acts. Underdog's melody and harmony is something that would become foundations for post-hardcore while their aesthetic and presence was still very much New York hardcore. Underdog is the crossroads of both eras and that is something that can never be taken away from them nor ever forgotten.

Included is both Underdog demos and their LP, The Vanishing Point.

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