Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Live: Pterodactyl, Lightning Bolt

When: 4/28
Where: Le Poisson Rouge

Pterodactyl opened for Lightning Bolt, which makes sense because even though Pterodactyl are less brutal than Lightning Bolt, they play guitars the way Brian Gibson plays his bass.  It's more than just pure speed, although that's a lot of it; it's got something to do with the guitar lines being somewhere between melody and arpeggio.  Pterodactyl has long been one of my favorite NYC bands and I was interested to see them on a big (or medium-sized) stage.  The band is fairly recently returned from a tour with another kindred band (and another favorite of mine), Parts & Labor.  Prior to the tour, Pterodactyl were already moving in vastly different directions, but nevertheless, it's hard not to see some of their recent changes as being at least partly influenced by their tourmates.

First and most noticeably, the band has added a fourth member.  Last time I saw them, they were also a quartet, with one of the members of Parts & Labor jumping in.  However, the fourth 'dactyl doesn't play synths and samplers like the guy from Parts & Labor did, he plays guitar (and occasionally bass).  Where keyboards were needed, Joe Kremer would set aside his guitar and whip out an amazing keyboard that folds in half so two people can play it.  (He said what it was called but the name is escaping me right now.)  As for the new guitarist, well, he plays well.  It's hard to jump into a band that's been around a while and not cramp their style, but he pulled it off.  On stage, though, he looked sullen and detached, even bored at times, which doesn't mesh well with the jumpy enthusiasm of the rest of the band.

Pterodactyl are also continuing to slow down their songs and play more with traditional rock and pop songforms. ("More" is a relative term, they're still out there, just more focused on vocal melody.)  I like their old stuff better, but that's just inevitable when you like a band and then they change.  Pterodactyl's new stuff is actually pretty rad, and it's great that they are pushing their boundaries instead of just making the same songs over and over again - which honestly, as much as I loved their old stuff, was on the brink of happening already.  Drummer Matt Marlin has changed his style and while his versatility is very impressive, there were times when he seemed to take a page from Parts & Labor's book and it didn't translate quite right.  Some of his big, building parts in the new songs just seemed to weigh down the guitars a bit and he overplayed at times.  Drummers, take note: never underestimate the value of simplicity.  Still, when he was on, he was amazing, with some jazzed up, chilled out polyrhythmic beats that the band's earlier breakneck pace didn't allow.  The band's first two albums showed Marlin to be a drummer of remarkable skill and control, but only now are we beginning to glimpse his full range.

I don't think the show went very well for the band though.  There were some problems with the sound on stage and off.  Le Poisson Rouge seems to like to pan the hell out of everything to create a nice stereo effect, which is cool up to a point, but if you are standing far to one side, as I was, you might only be able to hear half the band.  I could only hear the new guitarist and bassist/guitarist Jesse Hodges (and their vocals).  It did get better as the show went on, but it's frustrating that only a third of the audience could really hear the whole band in any sort of balance.  On stage, there were clearly issues as well, but the band held it together, playing tightly even in moments when they seemed unable to hear each other.  Their performance was a bit stiff though.  The band seemed to be struggling, but I think they hid it well (or I imagined it) because Jasper, who's as big a fan as I am didn't seem to notice them having much difficulty, and he was standing right next to me.

The band's new slower songs groove more and several feature more prominent vocals from Hodges.  (All members do vocals but Kremer has usually had the lead in the past.)  Hodges seemed unsteady in his singing at LPR, but I know he's got it in him.  I think it was just not an "on" night for the band.  At the beginning and end of their set, they hit some of their old high-speed songs like "First Daze," "Share the Shade" and "One with Everyone."  The band ultimately succeeded as much as anyone could reasonably hope to impress a 21+ audience of Lightning Bolt fans.  But because they're just not as brutal as Lightning Bolt, the band couldn't have won over that many people in the audience - not because they failed in any way but because certain fans of music like Lightning Bolt can be rather closeminded when it comes to anything that isn't, well, Lightning Bolt.

And what can I say about Lightning Bolt?  They are awesome.  Their avant-thrash noise is simultaneously heavier and faster than black metal - they are simply beyond comparison.  They never seem to miss a note, and they play a LOT of notes.

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