Earthquake of Sound: A Place to Bury Strangers, These Are Powers, All the Saints, Geographer @ The Independent, 10/17/09
On the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, those of us at The Independent experienced earth-shaking sound.
Let me start by saying that, every once and a while, there are evenings where there are multiple conflicting shows in the Bay Area, but this one took the cake. Treasure Island Festival, Jesus Lizard (which I was supposed to attend, but bailed on), Orchid, Ludicra, Connor Oberst……can’t we spread it out a little? But when it came down to it, there really was no better choice for me than going to see A Place to Bury Strangers.
I walked into a sparsely populated Independent as Geographer was on. A local three piece with an electric cello, their sound could best be described as indie rock with a splash of dirty synths. The vocalist has a very nice voice and easily stretches into the upper register. It was pretty, but I was in the mood for something harder.
Bring on All the Saints, from Atlanta. I loved them. They were a fantastic match for APTBS’ sound- psychedelic, experimental, a fucking loud. Another three piece, the guitarist/vocalist forced out his words with his eyes closed, and shook and swung around his guitar to make grinding, howling sounds. The bassist, a tall, mellow Novoselic type, rocked back and forth as if meditating on the pulsing sound. The drummer, an angry madman who could barely be contained by his drumset, glared at something that only existed to him as he pounded away. After the first song, he got up to speak in the mic, and then again a few more songs in, and then before the last song, he looked like he was going to walk off stage, but the bassist stopped him and nodded his head towards the drums as if saying, ‘we got one more song, buddy’. He never let go of his drumsticks through all of that. Go see them if you have the chance.
These Are Powers, from ‘Brooklyn and Chicago’ as they stated a few times, were one of the more unique acts I’ve seen in a while. I say unique because I’m not sure I ‘got it’. I guess you could describe them as No Wave Post- Punk. They are led by a female vocalist in a style like Santigold or Peaches, but much more mellow. Then there’s the bassist, with two pallets of pedals, causing the bass to make sounds that I didn’t think it could make….and wasn’t sure if it was supposed to. The bass was beat up- little chunks of it were missing. The bassist sweat like crazy, flinging unwanted droplets on the front row, including me, multiple times…I could have done without that. The third member, a DJ at the back of the stage, brought the beats. I think their sound is too dancey to go with this lineup- the crowd didn’t get very into it, except for the one person who threw a giant sunflower on the stage for the singer.
I discovered APTBS in the early days of HardRockChick…I saw them listed as an opener for a show at the Mezzanine and was intrigued by the name, and within 10 seconds of hearing the first song on their MySpace player, I was hooked. Unfortunately, I didn’t make that show, but caught them a few months later at Noise Pop. I was smitten…..so much so that I started a thread about them on The Spiral (Nine Inch Nails website) wondering if any other NIN fans were into them, and talking about how it would be amazing to have them open for NIN at some point. Well, a few short months later, it was announced that they would indeed open for several dates of the Lights in the Sky tour….but not any that I was able to go to. Last year, I saw them headline Bottom of the Hill, a set that was so loud and bright that it made my friend ill and she had to leave. The last time they were here, I didn’t make it as they played Popscene (ick) and it was the same night as Throbbing Gristle. It was thinking back to that night that made me skip Jesus Lizard for this show: I needed a show I really wanted to see instead of something I felt like I was supposed to see.
I see Oliver Ackermann walk out to set up with a small paper plate in his hand. It turns out that the setlist is written on the back of that plate. Then he brings out three guitars casually stacked on each other as if they were nothing. I realize at this point that he has switched to the right side of the stage….so I was standing on the wrong side of the stage! Bummer. The bassist, Jonathan, walks out and sets a matching tiny setlist plate on the stage near me. He meticulously sets up his pedals in a precise semi-circle. With all of the noise that APTBS makes, it takes them a very short amount of time to set up. But, they have literally been touring nonstop for years, so it must be down to a science.
They launch into ‘Ego Death’- which was written as ‘Gimme Acid’ on the setlist…it’s former name. The sound is an assault on the ears, every part of you vibrates. Oliver’s voice tends to get lost in the sound during their live sets, but its so made up for in watching his guitar tricks. I’ve said it before: it’s like he’s wrestling with it and dancing with it all at the same time. The front row was entirely guys- and music geeks at that I’d presume- and everyone’s posture was turned towards Oliver, looking at his pedals and his work as if studying a demonstration in how to be a guitar god.
The new songs sound amazing- they made up most of the set. ‘Deadbeat’ was probably my favorite, but ‘Exploding Head’ and ‘I Lived My Life’ were great, too. The first old song to come up was ‘I Know I’ll See You’, in the middle was ‘To Fix the Gash in Your Head’, and of course the end, ‘Ocean’.
In the middle of the set, Oliver set down his guitar and walked off stage. I began to worry….but he returned after a couple minutes with a gallon container of what looked like bleach…..but it was actually ‘fog juice’. He knelt down and filled up the fog machine and cranked it. A great moment in artistic perfection…he would not play without the proper amount of fog….and he made it happen himself.
Then there was a moment that gave me goosebumps. Before launching into the next to last song, Oliver looked up for the first time. He started with the back of the room, and he scanned every row of people, all the way down to the front. The look in his eyes said so many things that I couldn’t decipher it, but it was chilling.
Onto ‘I Lived My Life’, which ended in Oliver’s epic guitar antics- destringing, mutilating….I will dare say it’s as close to what I will ever experience to Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire. I imagine it felt similar to watch. It’s a fascinating combination of anger and respect.
This will give you a taste of what it’s like.
‘Ocean’ is always the final song…..an epic closer and one of my favorite songs of all time. This time around, it was less strobe-y than at BOTH, but powerful all the same. The waves of sound washed over me, taunting me with the answers to all my questions.
That it’s love, that holds you, you can never let it go
That its my arms, that control you
You can never let it go
Let it go
Before the song was even over, the cameraman next to me snatched the setlist. For some reason, this really pissed me off. After they finished, I stood there for a minute even though I knew it was over. I had to stop vibrating before I could move.
I went home and dreamed of angry love.