By Rob van Alstyne
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By Jack Spencer
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By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
"We believe in this," he says, punctuating his syllables with a Kruschevian smack of the tabletop. "You put your beliefs out there, you stand for something. It doesn't matter what it is."
Around a four top in Hard Times' most shaded corner, In Defence cower like FARC freedom fighters. After years of gruesome house-to-house combat on the Twin Cities punk underground, tireless touring on both coasts and the granitic wasteland that separates them, and waging war in Europe where they toured for a month on the nose, In Defence's divisive, contentious cause is actually catching on.
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But you can forget about anthems of governmental repression or fur-is-murder posturing. Such platitudes bore In Defence to tears. Check just one track on their forthcoming split 7-inch with Milwaukee's Party by the Slice, and the message is deafeningly obvious—In Defence are taco men in a pizza nation. And they're not standing for it anymore.
"There's so many bands talking about sexism and racism and antiwar," says guitarist Tom Burt. "You can say that stuff and no one bats an eye. But try talking shit about pizza. It gets them out of their seat."
Let's step back to October 2007, a time that, if In Defence has any say, will one day be stamped on ironclad monuments. In Defence are being hustled out of a Milwaukee house show by undercover cops prowling for illegal drinking. The house is being cited for noise violation, and there are a few dozen blue-balled punks milling around a chilly front yard, starved for a show.
So In Defence do the obvious thing. They cruise the main drag for a Taco John's, set up a P.A., and play like the Earth is on fire.
"We're constantly challenged every day," says Crew. "Everywhere we turn we see a pizza ad. We see a band like Party by the Slice with pizza in their name. We see stickers for Pizza Lucé everywhere." He pauses. "By the way," he says dryly, "we will change our stance on this issue if Pizza Lucé sponsors us."
Edward Burke once quipped that evil triumphs when good men do nothing. If action is the measure of good men, In Defence are sacred saints. They played their first show in February 2006, had an album on the streets a month later, and spent the next three-plus years of their career in a headlong sprint. A half dozen 7-inches, two vinyl full-length releases, and hundreds of ruined stages later, the local thrash four-piece has become a model of furious hardcore punk musicianship, of sweltering riffs and kick-drums marching double time, in which there lurks a smirk so sly you might not notice it in all the sweat and spilled blood.
In Defence's take on hardcore smacks of East Coast grit and grime, and recalls a time when dinosaurs like Urban Waste and Gorilla Biscuits stomped the Earth. But In Defence's politics are far from austere do-or-dies, no matter how straight they keep their faces when they wax about the supremacy of the taco. In fact, In Defence might best be described as principled mercenaries, who know no master but their own desire to have a good time.
"It doesn't matter how we're pigeonholed as long as it makes us money," says Crew with a grin. "That's the bottom line. What's gonna sell records. If this drama between taco and pizzas is gonna make us famous, then fuck it, who cares. Let's do it."
Taco Versus Pizza, the split 7-inch that drops this Saturday with a pair of release shows (an early show at Eclipse and a drunk show later at the Hexagon), is a ferocious battle hymn that pits them against collaborators and archrivals Party by the Slice, a Milwaukee outfit who counter every "In Defence of the Taco" with a "Pizza Rules."
But pick through the lettuce and fire sauce, and you'll see that Taco Versus Pizza is far from jokey ephemera. Every witty turn is ballasted by songs that bely In Defence's serious side, a dimension of their musical characters often eclipsed by their humorous exteriors. "In Defence of the Taco, Party by the Slice Should Change Their Name," a five-second polemic of taco supremacy which consists only of the words "Tacos rule/Pizza sucks/Eat!" is directly chased by "Bromophobia," a bloody takedown of American gay fear. With less panache in the execution, the switcharoo might be jarring. But with In Defence, the humorous feints are usually followed by no-bullshit haymakers. It's a winning formula, and it tricks their fans into deeper, darker waters than one would expect at first listen.
But back to their zealotry for the bodega and the corner taqueria. One question easily comes to mind upon hearing such loudmouthed fanaticism: What if In Defence found themselves facing starvation on a desert island, where the only culinary options are inedible, possibly dangerous tacos and world-class pizza? What then, smart-asses?