Friday, May 29, 2009

Live: Holy Fuck and A Place To Bury Strangers

When: 5/22
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg

Although A Place To Bury Strangers has long been one of my favorite NYC bands, I haven't actually been out to see them since the fall of 2007, when they "broke" -- thanks to a feature on Pitchfork's "Best New Music." So when I finally got to this show, a year and a half later, I was reassured (but not surprised) to see that the band's success hasn't led to musical comprise. In fact, critical acclaim seems to have helped the band fully recognize those things that has always set them apart - they seem far more focused and powerful than they did in 2007 (and they were pretty damn focused and powerful back then).

Undoubtedly one of the loudest bands in history, their noise has only intensified. Oliver Ackermann's custom-made guitar pedals - sold by his own Death By Audio - give his instrument a sound like no other. It's like one long metallic roar, more massive, more dense than anything you've ever heard - unless maybe you live on a very busy military airfield, that is. Confrontation by sheer volume isn't an idea invented by APTBS, but they can certainly join the list of bands that have pushed the approach to new extremes, a list that includes folks like The Who, The Stooges, Swans, Dinosaur Jr and My Bloody Valentine.

A Place To Bury Strangers
A Place To Bury Strangers

One of the things that makes APTBS so great is that the three musicians seem to come from very different places. Instead of meeting in middle stylistically, they each maintain their identity, crashing into each other at full force. This unusual interplay guarantees the band's unique sound. Drummer Jay Space plays relentless 16th-note-based heavy dance rhythms, while Jono Mofo's measured bass lines open up the sound, while deepening it into the lowest registers. This odd couple of a rhythm section make it pretty much impossible to say whether what you're hearing is fast or slow. Meanwhile, Ackermann's noise guitar buries heavy chords under squeals and roars while his vocals fight through the sonic combat zone undeterred.

Despite some problems from the sound booth during the first few minutes of the set, APTBS's inertia proved unstoppable. Hardcore fans would agree it wasn't their greatest show ever, but it was still a mindblowing performance. About halfway through the set, the band went into overdrive, hitting the strobe lights and letting loose. It's amazing Ackermann's guitar survived as long as it did, seeing the thrashing he gave it. Eventually his aggressive energy towards the guitar reached a breaking point and he threw it down, then dragged it around the stage by its cord.

The only mistake the band made was letting their noise jam go on a little too long. A good motto is "quit while you're ahead" - by stretching the boundaries of the audience's attention span, the band did lose just a touch of momentum near the end. Still, the onslaught was impressive, and by the time they actually exited the stage, amid deafening feedback, they'd fully recovered from any miscalculations. As always, lending to their mystique, the band didn't speak a word, just went on stage, made their noise and walked off. It leaves an impression on ya, it really does. [MySpace]

Holy Fuck followed APTBS and the combination seemed even weirder in practice than it seemed on first glance at the listing. Holy Fuck is an instrumental indie electro-dance group from Canada. But I guess it's not too strange, I know plenty of people (myself included obviously) who rank both these bands among their favorites.

Holy Fuck is one of two bands that convinced me electronic music can be good live (the other being Norway's 120 Days). All of the music is created on the fly - sure, there are sequencers and beats, but the band is constantly setting them off, inputting new samples, changing effects and creating sounds from a variety of sources. And the band members love to bob, pogo and dance to their own beats.

It's danceable music with complexity and merit, integrating a slew of rhythmic influences. The songs are loud and aggressive, but still fun. The only real problem is that the songs do get a bit "samey" and for those not dancing, the set was really too long. But as long as the front third of the audience is still jumping around, can anyone really criticize? In other words, Holy Fuck get to act like they're the shit because they are the shit. [MySpace]

With these two bands, I'd be shocked if anyone didn't get their $15 worth of awesome - maybe lost more than $15 worth of hearing, but definitely not short changed!

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