This is a lesson for everyone who gets to shows late to avoid crappy opening bands.
Murder City Devils
At The Drive-In
The big surprise of the evening -- a surprise many audience members missed -- was California's !!!. Apparently shoehorned onto the bill at At The Drive-In's request, !!! set a high bar for the rest of the evening's performers. Crowding the stage with band members, including the standard two guitarists, bassist, drummer, keyboard, trumpet and sax -- !!! carried a loose-limbed, funky energy that belied their opening act status. Undaunted by the crowd's initial indifference, or the fact that many audience members had mistaken them for Bluetip, they played on, steadily ramping up their intensity and anchoring it in winning style with Wire-influenced "dugga-dugga" bass rhythms. Slowly
but surely, they won over the entire crowd. The lead singer even managed to jump off the drum kit -- a move we'd see repeated for the rest of the evening. When !!!'s set finished, several audience members were compelled to hit the merchandise stand for their CD.
Bluetip hit the stage second and delivered a thirty-minute set of
Fugazi-inspired punk rock. Following !!! proved to be an unexpected challenge, and Bluetip seemed eager to prove themselves up to the challenge. Lead singer and guitarist Jason Farrell
roared into his mic as the rest of the band constructed an angular
bombast around him. Unfortunately, the band's attack seemed to be a bit too
crisp and precise, their comparatively formulaic delivery leaving little room for
any real danger or excitement as they showcased tracks from the
recently released Polymer. Nonetheless, the performance was enjoyable, with the eager-to-please Farrell's own slightly flubbed drumkit-jump bringing their set to a close.
By contrast, the Murder City Devils proved to be the epitome of balls-out rock and roll. We were all a bit embarrassed by our relative lack of MCD knowledge -- something we'll be sure to remedy, thanks to the strength of the band's energetic, slightly ghoulish set. The audience seemed to know the MCDs surprisingly well, and responded to their set with vigorous enthusiasm. The MCDs not only did a drumkit jump -- they set their drums on FIRE. Fire is always cool, particularly when it doesn't set the dry, mouldering stage curtains on fire, turning the entire venue into an blazing inferno and killing most of the oversold, overcrowded audience. The MCDs' songwriting also served to reveal At The Drive-In's most notable failing: they're good with bombast and intensity, but can't seem to write a melody.
Considering the time limitations imposed by the venue, At the Drive-In's
decision to begin their set with several minutes of unadulterated noise
may have been ill advised. But as the subtle strains of "Arcarsenal"
begin to emerge, the audience was more than willing to forgive them for their
brief error in judgement. As the drums crashed, the song took on new
life and everyone in the room took a deep breath. Then, like Vesuvius on a
bad day, At the Drive-In erupted, spewing a white-hot river of screamed
vocals, overdriven guitars and warbling electronic belches. They leapt, rolled and writhed across the stage, dispatcing
ravenous versions of "Pattern Against User," "Lopsided" and "Sleepwalk
Capsules", rendering "Cosmonaut" so ferociously that it seemed like they were going to collapse right in the middle of it. Cedric could barely keep the mic in his hand -- he swung it like a lariat, tossed it and caught it, his vocals seemingly an afterthought. Vocalist Cedric jumped around, danced, put a milk crate on his head, climbed on and jumped off a chair, jumped off the drum kit so many times that it becomes a cliche...lots of goofiness, but still strangely restrained. ATDI continued in this vein until the bitter end, slowing down only to
deliver an emotional and alcohol-fueled version of crowd favorite
"Napoleon Solo". And when that ended, they were off. No encore. No screaming. Just a sudden jolt as the house lights came up. Show over.
Article by Jason Jackowiak with George Zahora. Photos by Jason Broccardo.