Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Live: A Place to Bury Strangers + Nine 11 Thesaurus, Reading Rainbow

When: 9/11
Where: The Maze @ Death By Audio

Another day, same maze. The first band I saw on Friday was the hip-hop crew Nine 11 Thesaurus. I was surprised to see a [black] rap group in midst of a [white] indie rock hipster crowd, but it wasn't as awkward a situation as it could have been. Normally, indie rock culture seems to do all it can to skirt around the issue of race, which of course only makes the potential for antagonism worse. However, at this show, mutual respect seemed to be the rule. As for the music, it was pretty hard-edged East Coast rap, though poppy enough to avoid alienating listeners. The beats were unremarkable and the rapping was nothing special. However, the group's rowdy, enthusiastic delivery made up for some of the set's less exciting aspects. [MySpace]

Next up, in the back room, I was able to get a good view of Philadelphia duo Reading Rainbow. Their minimal, noisy garage rock was enjoyable, but I was saddened by the thought that in two weeks, I won't remember them. Minimalist drumming + minimalist guitar + rough-around-the-edges songs is simply one of the most common formulas in post-2000 indie rock, and with so many folks on the bandwagon, you'd have to do something pretty spectacular to stand out, no matter how genuine and solid your music. [MySpace]

I think some other bands played but I had to get some dinner and just made it back in time to secure a spot in sight of the stage for the already-legendary A Place to Bury Strangers. From where I stood in the maze, I could see singer/guitarist Oliver Ackermann much of the time and occasionally glimpse drummer Jay Space. They pumped the front of the house so full of fog from a smoke machine, however, that even the few of us whose view wasn't completely obscured by the walls of the maze could barely make out the band.

Two words came simultaneously to describe the show - visceral and visual. The former is just the impact of the sheer volume, pealing feedback and roaring distortion from Ackermann's custom pedals, along with intense, ice-cold, break-speed beats. The latter, however, is a bit of a bummer, given that most of the audience couldn't appreciate the visual components. From where I was standing, however, the visual attack was one of the most notable of the show.

As a general rule, APTBS uses strobe lights to bring things up a notch for the closing parts of their set, and while I'd always thought this was effective, seeing it in such a small space, in such densely smoky air, brought the concept to a new level. Part of me thinks bands shouldn't rely on visual props, and while APTBS's music can stand on its own, it definitely sounded weaker to me when I closed my eyes.

However, during this show, the murk and the strobe suddenly made perfect sense to me. I have a hard time looking at strobe lights and usually avert my eyes, but this time, I made myself stare straight onto the stage. APTBS thrives on overloading its audience with sonic stimuli, and when coupled with a visual overload, this can basically cause an altered state of consciousness. Distortion on a guitar is created by bombarding a circuit with an electric current beyond its capacity. In a similar way, APTBS attacks your brain with too much for its circuits to handle, and the result is a feeling of utter detachment from the surroundings and total physical and mental immersion in the music as it unfolds.

The only band I've seen with a similar psychological effect is My Bloody Valentine, who, of course, accomplish the same thing to a far greater degree (and generally without relying on visuals). MBV redefined what a concert experience could be and APTBS seems to have taken up their mantle in pushing these extremes. They haven't broken new ground yet, but they may well be on their way. [MySpace]

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