by Andres Rodriguez
When I hand the door guy my ID, he says, “Florida. A place I’d rather be right now,” as he hands back my driver’s license and tucks his hand in his sweater. Indeed, Wednesday, February 18th is a cold night and I am burrowing myself into a basement venue to see some noise-rock bands. Downstairs at Underground Arts by the venue’s entrance, the ticket lady is making conversation with the Crutchfield sisters, Katie of Waxahatchee and her twin, Allison, in Swearin’. “We’re from Alabama, but we live here now,” Katie tells the fanatic ticket lady. Between that instance and that the house speakers are pumping a heavy dose of dub, I know I like this place.
I mosey to the merch table to take a look. All three acts have items for sale. Philadelphia band Pinkwash have pink cassettes, touring support Ed Schrader’s Music Beat lay out a few yellow-themed records, and headlining band A Place To Bury Strangers have all sorts of gear: CDs, tapes, vinyl, a large tour poster, and earplugs kept in a small, logo-bearing container that “makes for a great little case to stash your weed in,” according to the merch guy. Loud music that requires earplugs and pairs well with weed: a good summary of what A Place To Bury Strangers are about, evidently.
On came Pinkwash, a duo with members who used to be in Mass Movement of the Moth and a bunch of other bands. Onstage, Joey Doubek unleashes a wave of guitar feedback that serves as a warning: “Hey, we’re going to be fucking loud.” They are. The two play a volatile style of aggressive math rock with precise riffs and start-stop moments that pull the listener along. The music is visceral, demonstrated by the full-body flailing going on onstage. Pretty impressive how much the guitarist is moving around considering the odd structure and timing of the songs. The two have these tunes down to a calculation. In between playing, Ashley Arnwine, the drummer, is sweating, panting and takes a drink of water in a way that suggests less, “damn, I’m tired,” and more, “ready for the next one.” When Doubek steps to the microphone, what comes out are more shrill declarations than melodic singing. The band doesn’t address the audience with any words until the moment before their last number. “Thanks everyone, thanks everyone,” Doubek repeats three or four times in a stiff manner like some android designed to shred. They burn through their set, Doubek turns off his full stack, and they walk off the stage. A promising pair.
After a cigarette and brief conversation with the door guy, Tom, I head inside to watch Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. With a name like that, I expect the guy to have an ego: a frontman persona and look-at-me attitude. Indeed, the one onstage without a shirt, singing an a capella rendition of “Fly Me To The Moon” is Ed Schrader himself. For the original tunes, he plays a floor tom and to his left is a long-haired fellow, the only other person on stage supplying the only other instrument: a bass guitar. His name is Devlin Rice. Ed Schrader’s Musical Beat is also a two-person operation, but more contained and far less volatile than the first duo.
A thin white light illuminates the band as they play their weirdo minimal-punk with lyrics sometimes shouted, other times lighthearted and crooned. No song lasts more than two or three minutes. Many times they feel like little sketches of songs and brief interludes, most notably this one that was just Schrader’s voice and some hand claps. “Philadelphia, you’re always so fucking amazing,” he says. His onstage partner chimes in, “I’m Mr. Rodgers,” and Schrader follows up with, “and I’m Victoria from Beach House,” a joke that must have gone over my head as I was tucked away writing notes. Or just another example of this band’s oddness. After more vocals-only covers of popular songs, Schrader ends the tributes with “Can You Feel The Love Tonight,” a move that has some part of the audience laughing, and another part done with this quasi-karaoke showoff. He says, “This song goes out to those who came to fucking rock,” as I roll my eyes. They launch into a one-minute garage rock blast that almost makes up for the corniness of that closing statement.
Right at the onset, the trio proves how much power they generate as the electricity goes out for a moment, long enough to make things awkward and confusing rather than mighty. Ready to go, the band slams audience ears with mostly new material from their latest LP, Transfixiation. Fog machines breathe into the atmosphere and the lights are off. Vocalist and guitarist Oliver Ackermann intones into the microphone as his dark hair obscures his face. As expected with a band as loud as A Place To Bury Strangers, there are no gaps of silence between songs. Absolutely no recognition from band to audience with greetings or between-song banter, and none from audience to band with applause or cheering. Just straight hypno-rock for an hour. Many times I can’t see anything but the heads of people in the crowd, standing there in a noise-induced stupor.
Things start to cool down a bit as Ackermann kneels down to his custom-built pedals to begin messing around, all while channeling waves of feedback and guitar drone. Meanwhile, bassist Dion Lunadon and drummer Robi Gonzalez manage to sneak off stage to set up in the audience space. The band runs through an encore set of songs in their new location, eye-level with the crowd. As the three mimic a generation’s worth of noisy space-rock bands, I find that A Place To Bury Strangers make for a decent gateway into originators like The Jesus And Mary Chain and Spacemen 3.
Their set ends and the silence is jarring. Lights come on. People shuffle around, unaccustomed to this new noise-free and lit space. While the set wasn’t devastatingly loud enough to warrant the earplugs, A Place To Bury Strangers create a fitting environment– dark, moody, hazy with fog– for their austere, straight-ahead vision of rock and roll.
A Place To Bury Strangers have a new album, Transfixiation, out on Dead Oceans. They have just released a video for the album highlight, “We’ve Come So Far,” depicting the band’s live presence at the last show at their homebase venue, Death By Audio. Watch it here.