Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Live: Shellshag, Unstoppable Death Machines, Fiasco, Chicken & Whiskey

When: 7/2
Where: Silent Barn

There were so many things to be confused by upon walking into the latest Shellshag-curated show at Silent Barn, it's hard to know where to begin.  The band playing first (mid-set when I walked in) consisted of a couple of 250 lb, heavily tattooed, heavily tanned biker-ish dudes playing a bass guitar and a keyboard respectively (and their less noticeable but similarly presented drummer).  And when I say keyboard, I don't mean synthesizer.  I mean electric piano.  The gentleman on the bass had long hair and was wearing overalls with one side undone, and no shirt, while the keyboardist (and lead singer) sported a wife-beater and mullet.

Their small audience, who on average were about fifteen years their juniors, were jumping around enthusiastically when they suddenly plunged into a brief but surprisingly faithful cover of "A Whole New World."  The song from Aladdin.  Aside from the singer's gruff voice, it was pretty true to the Disney original, but somehow fit with the rest of their blue collar hair-punk (like hair-metal, get it?).  The band, as it happened, were called Chicken & Whiskey and it was one of their first ever shows (or so I was told).  And you know what?  They were good.  Everything about them was just right - their not-so-typical-for-the-Brooklyn-DIY-scene appearance, the balance of their masculine sound and look with their not-so-manly keyboard and cover song selection, effortlessly tight, effortlessly and subtly melodic.

It's no surprise that when they finished their set, the audience called out for more songs.  They're exactly the kind of songs you want to hear more of when you go to a place like Silent Barn.  Then several audience members began calling for the band to "freestyle."  And guess what!  They did, and they were good at that too.  [old video]

I've seen Fiasco many times and for all the band is impressive, the most enduring impression they made on me was as being a band of unequal skill.  Not unequaled, unequal.  While Jonathan Edelstein and Lucian Buscemi split guitar, bass and vocal duties, Edelstein's parts always outmatched Buscemi's.  The band was great but it was frustrating to think how much better they would sound with two Edelsteins.

I didn't really have that issue at Silent Barn.  Silent Barn is a stageless and equipment-strapped DIY space and while there are certainly worse acoustics to be found in the city, the audio isn't exactly pristine either.  As such, I couldn't hear the minutiae that revealed the band's lopsided skills and was free to simply enjoy their energy.

All that aside, Fiasco are good at what they do.  And what they do is awesome.  Their incredibly fast and complex parts (often involving finger-tapping on guitar) flip between time-signatures without losing their brutal force.  It's not the newest trick in the book, but it's a pretty good one.  And one that's beyond the technical prowess of most bands as young as Fiasco.

I've only seen Unstoppable Death Machines once, and that was also with Fiasco.  They are a duo with a setting that's nearly identical to Lightning Bolt - two guys, one bass, one drum kit, an echoey mic in the mouth and a whole lot of distortion.  For all that, though, they sound pretty different from Lightning Bolt, who thrive on sheer speed.  UDM's songs are more like, well, songs.  Their tempos are slower and their rhythms simpler.  Of course, they don't have the sheer originality of Lightning Bolt, but on the other hand, their music is easier to enjoy.  And regardless of who they're not, they are pretty fucking ferocious.

Amid the massive distortion and skull shattering feedback, an interesting thing happened - the audience lifted the drummer and drumkit in the air at the end of the set.  The drummer hopped on someone's shoulders while various other people lifted his snare and cymbals in reach.  It reminded me, oddly, of the dinosaur rock bands and their interminable drum solos, during which the drummer's platform would rise up above the stage for an unlistenable ten, fifteen or twenty minutes.  But while the drummer's levitation evoked such concerts, in a strange way, it was exactly the opposite.  This is DIY and it's the opposite of a Rock God solo.  Not only did the bass continue in its assault, but also those drums that could not be lifted were taken over by various audience members who pounded wildly on them for a good ten minutes.  While the aerial rock drummer rises above the audience a show of superiority and separation from mere mortals, UDM's altitude was a part of the absolute annihilation between performer and audience. [video of a previous show at the same venue]

Or, more to the point, it was fucking fun.

I have nothing new to say about Shellshag, having reviewed them 8,000,000 times before.  If they don't make you smile, your face is broken.

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