I've been pretty lazy with updating this thing lately, as you can tell. Life gets in the way. I've got two weeks of song posts on backlog. For the time being, though, here's a review of the last show I went to, a really interesting bill of metal bands at O'Briens Pub in Allston on June 19th, 2011.
A preface: I am an old man.
Okay, I'm only twenty-three. But years of going to loud punk and metal shows have left me bruised, battered, deafened, and hungover in equal (and near-perpetual) measure. It was a month ago, seeing Converge at the Middle East in Cambridge, that I decided I need to start wearing earplugs to shows. Tinnitus has been a great fear of mine for years now, and recently that fear has started becoming more of a reality. Hearing will sometimes just cut out of one of my ears without warning with that kind of muffled sound you get when you're underwater. So, knowing that O'Briens is about the size of a thimble, and knowing how fucking loud Deafheaven is, I begrudgingly got some orange foam earplugs at Walgreens and brought them to the show.
I was a bit relieved to discover I wasn't alone. My good friend and constant show-buddy Jeremy Tyarks brought earplugs of his own, and once openers Western Syndrome took the stage, looking past people's heads was like staring into a forest of neon foam.
I had told Jeremy beforehand that I didn't really know or care about any of the openers (I listened to one song off each of their myspace pages; none of them grabbed me - and, seriously guys, all three of you list your primary genre as 'downtempo?' Is this a joke I'm not in on?), and as such would probably be arriving at least a half hour or so after the show's scheduled start time of 8:00 pm. Now, as I should've well known, kickoff wasn't until past 9:00 anyway. But I'm actually glad I got to catch all the openers. They weren't always great, but they were certainly an interesting survey of what the local heavy music scene is offering right now.
Western Syndrome were the opener whose online material had interested me the most prior to the show. At the very least, they had the shortest songs, and as an old man, I dig that. A four-piece punk-rock lookin' band with a female vocalist, I can dig that too. They hail from Cape Cod, and they seemed a bit nervous/flustered taking the stage, thanking the other bands for letting them borrow gear. So they're up-and-comers I guess, I dig that.
Almost as soon as they started playing though, I started feeling bad for them. Because, here's the thing: there was definitely some talented songwriting and musicianship going on onstage. The guitars had a nice droney vibe that clashed with the really upbeat hardcore tempo of the drums, and the drummer had some clear chops, and the singer had a very gnarly scream that reminded me of the girl from Kill The Man Who Questions (and thus do I reach my third consecutive post where I fail to avoid mentioning that band). But their sound mix was fucking abysmal. The bass was so loud and muddy that all I could really hear of it was a painfully loud grind, and the feedback from the guitar was killing me. It drowned out most of the drums and vocals (the backing mic in particular might as well have not been plugged in). I was really thankful for those earplugs. I kind of wished I had earplugs for my earplugs.
But hey, it's not their fault. And listening to that stuff on their myspace right now, there's a lot to like. They're bringing back that whole Orchid style of dissonant, grindy screamo. I dig that. And what I really dig? They kept it brief. The whole set didn't last more than 15 minutes, which is pretty much exactly the right length for a band of this style. Would I go see them again?: Yes. I feel like they have a lot of promise. Although I'd hope like hell they had a better mix this time.
Next up was The Proselyte. And boy was I dreading this one. Sleeveless Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirts? Beards the length of a Subway sandwich? I was anticipating exactly the type of metal that I quickly lose patience for. And at the outset, it really did sound like a bunch of guys who listen to too much Baroness and not enough anything else. But before the end of their first song, something surprising happened: they started to win me over. It was pretty much entirely due to the vocals; they had a three-part vocal thing going on that managed to keep it interesting without being gimmicky. Their drummer was probably the most talented of the three, swinging between Danziggy croons and Caleb Scofield growls with ease (and oh, how I love a singing drummer that doesn't suck at one or both of those things), although the two guitarists provided good supporting vocals, both screamed and harmonized. Funnily enough, the first thing Jeremy said to me in regards to their set was "I like the music, but 90% of the vocals do nothing for me," so to each his own I guess.
And if they had ended at the 25 minute mark, I would have pretty much nothing but nice things to say about them. But they continued on with another two songs (which, as you can probably already guess, were like 6 or 7 minutes apiece), and I started getting restless. You got good stage presence and energy guys, but you're still band two out of four and it's almost eleven o'clock. Leave us wanting more, not wanting less. Would I go see them again?: Yeah, sure. Like I say, they're style isn't really my thing, but they won me over against my expectations. I admire that.
The third - and, from the reaction of the crowd, most anticipated - band of the night was VYGR (that is to say, "Voyager," but in that weird remove-all-the-vowels spelling that seems to have become popular among heavy bands these days; see also NRWS and, yes, DFHVN). And, well... fuck me, but I can't really think of anything nice to say about these guys. Two things: If you're a band, and you play in a style that could be referred to as 'Post-Metal,' you better bring something really interesting to the table, or I'ma get bored reeeaallll fast. And if you're going to use a strobe light as a prominent fixture of your stage setup? Well then you better be absolutely fucking spectacular. C'mon, son. You're not Neurosis and you're definitely not Botch. Sell your strobe light, use the extra money to take a day off, and write some more interesting songs. And like I've said already, don't play so damn long! Maybe 16 year old hardcore kids with gauged ears and violent antisocial tendencies have the energy for this, but I don't. I am an old man, and the longer you play, the older I get.
I will say that the weird loopy keyboard noises and stuff in between songs were kind of interesting, but only like the first two times. Jeremy left to take a walk (a walk!) probably a third of the way into the set, and not long after, I went out to smoke a cigarette and talk about Opeth with him until they finished sometime the next morning. Would I go see them again?: No thanks. Too old.
Finally, coming up on 1:00 am (keep in mind that the show was supposed to start at eight - that's four bands in about five hours, and one of them only played for 15 minutes; where the hell did that time go?), headliners Deafheaven stepped up to bat. This was the band I was there to see, playing their first show in Boston. The internet metal scene is all abuzz about these guys, so I'll just keep it brief and say what you already know; they play a pretty neat mix of Black Metal and Shoegaze ("Blackgaze"? No, that just sounds racist), they just signed to Deathwish, and they all kind of look like they could be in a Smiths cover band, except for the drummer, who looks like your friend's metalhead little brother. Their four-song demo and their also four-song debut LP, "Roads to Judah," have been on pretty heavy rotation in Roberson house for the past couple months, and I'd been waiting with anticipation to see if their live set could match the intensity of those records.
They did not disappoint. Probably by virtue of being the headliners, they had the cleanest, best sounding mix of the night. The guitars were ethereal one moment and crushingly heavy the next, just as they should be. The bass was just audible enough to provide a solid anchor. The drums were wonderfully crisp - and man, that drummer, he may look young, but he's an absolute monster, all precise blastbeats and cymbal fills and crazy eyes. The vocals were a bit low at first, but they fixed that pretty fast, and the frontman had all the intensity required of these songs and then some. I can't recall the last time I saw a singer for which the mic stand was so clearly an extension of their body, shoving the microphone out into the audience, screaming into it wildly from a distance, hanging off of it for dear life in the long instrumental breaks. It was really something.
And the best part? They only played three songs. Three! Songs! Granted, their songs do tend to push up against or over the ten minute mark, but this abridged version of "Roads to Judah" was still probably the second-shortest set of the night, and it was all the more intense for it. That whole "leave me wanting more" thing I was griping about earlier? Deafheaven is a band that gets it, full stop. They came, they saw, they black metalled, they peaced the fuck out. It was wonderful. Would I go see them again?: Oh undoubtedly, but with a record as immense as "Roads to Judah," I knew that going in.
So, yeah, Allston metal night. All things considered, O'Briens really was a great place for this show. You don't get that kind of intensity in a bigger venue, and while I tend to stay out of Allston, O'Briens and Great Scott remain two of my favorite places to see shows.
In summation, metal bands: Soundcheck quicker, play shorter. Take pity on aging metalheads, because it'll fucking happen to you too.
And I still don't know what a Proselyte is.
Western Syndrome @ Myspace
The Proselyte @ Myspace
VYGR @ Bandcamp
deafheaven @ Bandcamp
-Michael James Roberson
(editor's note: upon further consideration, "shoemetal" sounds like ten times better than "blackgaze.")
Friday, June 24, 2011
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Unlike last week's entry, Bloodstains by Agent Orange is a song I only vaguely remember first hearing.
It was likely pretty early in the initial years of my exposure to punk and hardcore; Like I said last week, I started with local, current, or just weird shit that I'd find at friends houses or in the 7" bin at Newbury Comics (Toxic Narcotic, Limp Wrist, pg.99, whatever). I then started delving into the more historical stuff, like Black Flag and Minor Threat, and later the more experimental offshoots of that scene like The Minutemen and Fugazi. I'd pretty much give any band a shot if they had a cool sounding name or a good album cover. I was really into that first Millions of Dead Cops album for a while.
I don't exactly remember the first time I heard "Bloodstains," but I seem to recall being so impressed with it that I bought the band's first album, Living in Darkness, the next time I found myself at the Bellingham Newbury Comics (a digression: I namedrop Newbury Comics a lot, because in those years when I didn't really go to shows or even leave my neighborhood a whole lot, that store and my small circle of friends were my only real resources for finding out about new music. I swear they're not paying me for this, and though I did end up working for them for a couple months in 2007, I have no special affection for the company). If I did have that record at some point though, I don't know where it went. Probably into the same black hole that swallowed my copy of You're Living All Over Me by Dinosaur Jr. and my rad Dead Kennedys t-shirt.
Where was I? Oh yeah, the song. I hadn't thought about it in years, but lately I've been listening to it near-obsessively as part of my morning routine. In particular, I've been rocking the original version off their first seven-inch EP. It's got that great echoey sound that I love on early punk rock records, like it wasn't recorded by Spot, but it might as well have been (unfortunately, I couldn't find a youtube video of this version, so instead the above clip is the re-recorded version from their first LP, which is still pretty good). As far as hardcore songs go, it's pretty much perfect; I dare say it's a Platonic ideal of the form. One minute and forty-seven seconds of crunchy guitars, 4/4 drums, and pure concentrated sneer.
There are a couple things that set it apart, though. What Agent Orange seem to be most known for is being that California hardcore band that was really into surf-rock. Which, if you couldn't tell by the winding guitar solo at a minute and twenty, you'd probably figure out by the time you got to the Dick Dale cover later on the album. It's pretty neat. The same way Bad Brains carved out their niche with a fusion of speed-punk and reggae, Agent Orange created a sound that is both quintessentially "hardcore" and entirely unique within that scene.
What I've really been grooving on, though, is the lyrics. First of all, "They can't make things worse for me, sometimes I'd rather die" is one of the most perfect opening lines to a punk rock song ever, right up there with "I'm about to have a nervous breakdown, my head really hurts" or "I am an antichrist, I am an anarchist." The chorus, though, is just straight up weird. And pretty great:
Bloodstains, speed kills
Fast cars, cheap thrills
Rich girls, bye-bye
I've lost my sense, I've lost control, I've lost my mind
Seriously, what? It's this strange melange of punk rock signifiers, like they cut up the lyrics sheets to a bunch of late '70s punk LPs and glued them back together. It is, if you'll allow me to be pretentious (like I need your permission), totally Modernist, the kind of thing James Joyce might've written if he were an antisocial teenager growing up in 1970s California.
Anyway, according to their official website, Agent Orange were still together and playing shows as recently as 2005. As much as I love it when bands break up, I think that's totally rad. I would pay good money to see a bunch of 40- or 50-something dudes rocking out onstage to this song. It warms my heart to think about.
-Michael James Roberson