The show hasn’t even started and I’m already worried; it’s gonna be loud. Not normal rock show loud, more like standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier during air raid exercises loud. The pre-show music at Rock and Roll Hotel has a dark, punk vibe…and it’s really loud. I’m fearing that the venue’s middling sound system won’t be able to handle it. I don’t want this to turn out like a pair of unforgettably loud shows at 9:30 Club (which ordinarily has great sound) that are remembered as, A) the loudest I’ve ever seen, and, B) two of the more disappointing. And while I normally like loud…I’m expecting to be disappointed. But, “New York’s Loudest Band” — A Place to Bury Strangers — did bring their own sound guy, so that has to be a good thing, right? And they’re not just loud for the sake of being loud, it’s done with purpose.
They say that low expectations help avoid disappointment, and, although I don’t necessarily recommend that approach to life, it is the one I’m taking as smoke starts to billow out and about and around the stage. Lots and lots of smoke. That’s one expectation I had coming in, because Strangers (let’s just call them Strangers for brevity’s sake) evoke something dark, something shrouded, something otherworldly. Come on, you wouldn’t bury a stranger in the clear light of day, would you? I mean…unless you’re a gravedigger.
It’s a pretty excitable male-centric crowd, and clearly full of fanboys. Fans of cinematic adaptations of dark, graphic novels. Fans of talking trash to 12 year old kids in Iowa as they play World of Warcraft. Fans of Kate Beckinsale …REALLY big fans…because of those Underworld movies, naturally. And that’s fitting, perhaps, because as the three Strangers emerge the surrounding atmosphere is like that of the promo poster for The Crow, only darker.
It begins. There’s more smoke and back-lit laser-like LEDs that aggressively punctuate the haziness. Ichabod Crane levels of smoke have filled the room. This is music for the apocalypse. Music for Brandon Lee’s funeral. Music for a hobo fight under a bridge. Strangers’ drums are Tom Petty-ish straight-ahead rhythms…but on speed. Lots and lots of speed. The guitars howl and buzz like the Jesus and Mary Chain, but with more anger and less lamentation. Like early Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, but blacker. The vocals are Robert Smith morose but, again, on speed. But it’s those drums that propel them onward into the abyss. The rhythm section in general, actually; Oliver Ackermann’s vocals generally supply the only hints of melody, but melody isn’t the point. This is a band that is mostly rhythmic, including its guitar. This…is industrial strength shoegazer.
The sound is actually pretty good; their guy knows what he’s doing and is certainly busy with a couple of laptops and a variety of gear that is also controlling the (minimalist but incredibly appropriate) light show. On at least a couple of songs the vocals are more than shrouded by heavy distortion, looping feedback and general fuzz destined to linger in my ears for days. But that may well have been the point, so I’m not judging. The crowd is amped, literally, as the band sends an amp crowd surfing. That’s quite a unique form of personification.
The entire show features a frenetic urgency akin to that unforgettable car chase scene in Ronin. It’s an intense 55 minute set that passes by in the blink of an eye, that rare show where the band mostly doesn’t play the songs I want to hear – Radiohead comes to mind – but I still leave enthralled. One of those shows. There’s no encore — perhaps understandably — they had to be exhausted after the physical exertion, alone. As should be the smelly, sweaty, Petri dish of a lumberjack rocking out next to me. His presence is the only reason to leave rather than linger in the electric aftermath…that guy. He needs to go home and shower, even though it would minimize his time spent posting about Lori Quaid on message boards.