Monday, February 23, 2009

Live: A.R.E. Weapons and Bellmer Dolls

When: 2/19
Where: Cameo

I wrote up the Bellmer Dolls not that long ago and was planning to leave them alone for a bit, but when I found out they were playing with the legendary A.R.E. Weapons, I couldn't pass it up. I arrived at the new Williamsburg venue Cameo so late I thought I might miss the entire show, but in fact, the first act, Services, was just finishing when I made it into the room.

Services - I'm not sure what to make of this band, having only caught the last few bars of their set, but it certainly left me scratching my head. It seemed to combine 70's style and dance moves with some amalgamation of cheap 80's synth pop, Krautrock and trashy metal. I couldn't even figure out if it was awesome or terrible. Maybe it made more sense if you saw the whole set? Or maybe not.

A.R.E. Weapons - A.R.E. Weapons were once signed to indie mainstay Rough Trade and have been a known name in the NYC underground for almost a decade. While the quality of their recorded material is spotty at best, their live show has secured their reputation among audiences at fringe of the indie music scene. I'd never seen them play before and naturally, I was intrigued.

The first word that comes to mind for the band's performance is assaultive. The sheer volume is most of that, but the sound is also heavy-hitting and the delivery intense and aggressive. The line-up has changed numerous times since the band's founding, and for this show, the band was whittled down to two members. Some research leads me to believe there are usually four of them, but having seen the band as a duo, it's hard to understand why they'd need two more people - just two of them are pretty much enough to knock you over.

With one member on synth and the other on guitar and vocals, the band sounded pretty much like no-wave synth duo Suicide - a fact the band even acknowledged at one point. They topped their electronic beats with massive, distorted noise rock, but maintained a sense of song structure and vague orientation within key signatures, an approach that made their forays into noise far more enjoyable than most bands'. The musical chemistry between the two members on stage was also exceptional. They seemed to be completely in sync with one another, complimenting one another so naturally they might have been reading each other's minds.

My only complaint lies with the vocals, which could be a bit trite at times, particularly in the lyrics. I understand the trashy, cliched pattern of the vocals was used intentionally much in the way the Ramones reference the idiocy of 50's pop. But just because it's done on purpose doesn't make it the best decision - this sort of juxtaposition is rather overdone and the songs would be better if they stood on their own merit. :: MySpace

The Bellmer Dolls - I'm afraid my assessment of this band will always be colored with nostalgia for the good ol' days. Like any band that's at its best raw and live, the Bellmer Dolls have gravitated ever so slightly towards complacency and convention with time. Their garage goth is still aggressive and their delivery still wild, but their set seems more planned now - they break far less equipment and improvise less than they once did.

The Bellmer Dolls (photo by Tim D. Richardson)
The Bellmer Dolls

But they still do some damage both to the stage equipment and to the audience's eardrums, and they are still very much worth getting excited about. The band debuted some new songs at the show that ultimately didn't live up to the tribal minimalism of Bellmer's early material - they were good, but didn't sound as unique. But just when I was about to get worried, the band launched into a new song that very much captures their old spirit - anchored by the tense, driving bass line, the song's bare aggression left no doubt that the Bellmer Dolls are still very much with us.

The band also played most of their best old material, snarling out classics and ending on a massive rendition of "Push, Push" which did, true to tradition, end in a lot of shit getting knocked over and broken. Maybe not as much damage as they would have done a year ago, but still, it was from the heart. And still, the band is one of the best around these days - worthy not only of an audience but of a lasting legacy in the American underground. :: MySpace

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