Monday, April 26, 2010

Live: A Place to Bury Strangers, Big Pink

When: 3/30
Where: Webster Hall

I've never thought about A Place To Bury Strangers being a particularly tight band but that's only because they are so seamless, you don't even think about them stumbling. At least, I never had until I heard them in the craphole that is Webster Hall.

Turns out APTBS now have a friend doing their sound, and while friends are awesome for listening to your problems and buying you beer when you have a bad day, they aren't necessarily awesome for controlling a sound board in a way that sounds good. I know it's an uphill battle to sound anywhere near decent in Webster - the acoustics in that room are notoriously slushy. But the room and the untrained sound guy - well, with their forces combined, they nearly trainwrecked one of NYC's most unstoppable bands.

From the get-go, it sounded like the three musicians on stage could not hear each other. At times, the drums and guitar seemed to be in entirely different places. The bass was barely audible. The guitar noise was a mess, at once hollow and muddy - and then it cut out all together for quite a long time. In the middle of one song, guitarist Oliver Ackerman walked over to the bass amp and adjusted the sound from there. That's a sure sign the guy in the sound booth is failing.

Several times, I thought the band was going to lose it entirely, fall apart and end their set. Much to their credit, they hung on, plowed through and finished in style. For all it ravaged their sound, the venue did beef up the band's visuals, with some serious smoke machine action and some serious strobe lights. The band's visual intensity helped mask the sonic failings, Ackerman in flashing silhouettes abusing his weathered Fender Jag. The deafening noise jam near the end of the set finally managed to lock in the sound a bit and the band exited with their audience rapt.

Though this was by far the worst set I've ever seen from this band, I think the problems were only visible to loyal fans. Anyone seeing APTBS for the first time was bound to be impressed - how can you not? And for those of us who did notice the band struggling, it could only increase our admiration as well. Anyone else would have given up and left the stage, but this trio rode their intensity alone and put on a damn show.

Of course, adding to the problems was the fact that APTBS were opening. Opening bands usually have their volume capped ten or twenty decibels below the headliner, and since APTBS's sound is based on pure volume, the dimmed sound destroyed what little clarity they may have been able to achieve. The true power of the massive speakers hanging in front of the stage was immediately apparent, however, when The Big Pink appeared. The bass was loud enough to severely damage my eardrums despite my fairly heavy-duty earplugs. It was the kind of bass that rattles your bones to the point of physical discomfort.

But I could see why the band cranked up so loud - except for the phenomonally brain-shattering volume of their bass line, there was absolutely nothing going on. How did this band get so popular? Their songs have no substance at all. There were a few decent beats but not a tune, not a song, not cool guitar sound, not an emotion, just vapid showmanship.

And let's talk about the showmanship too. The front man has a rock star haircut and was sporting a tattered white t-shirt under a black leather jacket. Several metal chains hung from his neck. The other major force in the band, the DJ, was a stockier fellow in a black hoody, hood up. Um, could you get any more cliche? Please? Cause that's just not enough for me.

Meanwhile, the bass player was entirely unremarkable and the drummer, well, the drummer makes me sad. See, I hate to hate on a female drummer, but this girl, one Akiko Matsuura, is NOT a good drummer. Granted, she was scantily clad and flailed her arms pretty good, but as a drummer, she sucks. Luckily, about 80% of the beat was coming from the DJ, so her inabilities were well hidden. But seriously, folks.

Maybe if I did a lot of drugs, I might have enjoyed this band. But it would have to be a lot of drugs. As it is, the Big Pink is a waste of time and space. Wanna be ahead of the curve? Forget about them. Everyone else will have forgotten them in a year too. Thankfully.

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