the sound and the fury

anyone paying attention to the dates on this blog may have noticed the decrease in frequency of posts in the past several months. since i've been busy with my own sounds (nothing new online yet), it takes a lot these days to get me out to one of the many shows i recommend through upcoming.org at the right. this past friday at turned out to be a bill i couldn’t pass up since i had a free night: four dark rock bands whose names i recognized, hosted by new york underbelly. i’d never been to crash mansion before, so this was a perfect opportunity to check out two bands i’d heard of and linked to on myspace but never seen, and reaccquaint myself with two others who’ve been undergoing some changes lately.

the december sound hail from boston, so this was a semi-rare chance to catch them. i found them through loveless music group, which gave me a clue to expect some variation on shoegazer music. although i recall their songs online as good, they took on another dimension live due to the full depth of the guitar sound being given room to breathe. they had an unusual setup in that the lead singer/guitarist stood off to the side mostly facing the rest of the band, while the keyboardist took center stage. this subtly diffused the focus to the group as a whole, a very interesting idea. their songs were well-balanced between a distorted guitar wash and ethereal synth melodies, with the bass and drums keeping things grounded. they were impressive also in that they were not just aping my bloody valentine, slowdive, or ride, but focused on building their own sound from various influences. they built up to a crescendo of looped guitar noise and bowed out gracefully.

surprising me by being second on the bill were a place to bury strangers, who delivered one of their best performances. the drummer accidentally knocked his electronic pads off his kit early on, or they might have matched the destructive power of the knitting factory show i first saw them at. it’s hard to build a wall of sound as noisy and yet forceful as they do without the full effect of distorted and reverberating drums, but they manage very well. kudos also go to the soundman, who was able to make oliver ackerman’s vocals cut through the mayhem throughout, which i’ve never heard before. their new bassist seemed to fit in better than last time i saw them, and the drums had more regimented punch and less punky abandon. the wildness was left to ackerman, who attacked his guitar more fiercely as the set progressed. this culminated in his turning on the strobe light for the final song, which dissolved into a hailstorm of distortion before he decided to attack a fender twin reverb amp. he banged it on the floor repeatedly to cause a series of huge metallic thwangs that closed the set.

this was a tough act to follow, but the funeral crashers rose to the challenge. musically and visually, they hang at the turning point between punk and deathrock. they aren’t as unschooled or brash as early punkers, or as depressed and theatrical as deathrockers or goths. the singer’s vocals lie somewhere between bauhaus-era peter murphy and monotone ranters like jello biafra. the latter comparison was also driven home by the seeming socio-political bent to the lyrics i could make out. they also had three television sets, which might have been ready to flash some kind of media commentary, but seemed to be simply more of a visual element. while they had the most retro vibe of the evening, there are some good original elements to their music, particularly some forward-looking guitar work and the way it locked in with the bass at times seeming to create a third instrument.

this was the first time i’d seen other passengers (top photo) without a second guitarist, and the first time in well over a year when they had no visuals behind them. the first issue was due to a band member departure, and the second was brought on by the sudden tragedy of a/v queen berkoy’s computer dying. send condolences, donations, and offers to lend powerbooks to her email address.

these two missing elements pushed OP to new kinds of energy and noisemaking. second guitar duties were filled in by singer billy, forcing him to leave out his keyboards. obviously this made for a harder sound overall as well as a seemingly frustrated attention split between the audience and the fretboard. main guitarist kevin also filled in more spaces than his usual edgy effect-laden sparseness. the effect was almost like watching a different band than the moody progressive outfit they were developing into. their playing reminded me of the backed-into-a-corner (literally) energy of the first time i saw them at bar 169. they’re definitely worth seeing, as they tend to put a lot of effort into each performance.

towards the end, kevin made a quick effect pedal change that cost him his entire sound, so he angrily plugged directly into his amp and wailed away brilliantly without much audible difference. this came to an abrupt end as he took a backwards dive into the drumkit, still playing from the floor. james continued to beat individual drums while billy intoned a kind of impromptu requiem. the sound dissolved in chaos as they left the stage.

i hope crash mansion and new york underbelly keep booking exciting shows like this. it’s a good venue that deserves support and so do these bands.

the title of this post comes from a classic book by william faulkner