The vocalist for Rwake sat in the middle of the stage, seemingly oblivious to the flurry of activity around him. While the rest of his band was setting up, he folded his legs into a yoga-like position, upper body hunched over, cradling his head with his beefy hands, his hair shrouding his face. For about fifteen minutes he seemed to be meditating, praying, preparing for his set – who knows, but instead of hurling insults at the singer, the attendees at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge who were already hovering around the stage to secure their spot to see the anticipated set by Shrinebuilder (Dale Crover, Al Cisneros, Scott Kelly and Wino) play, remained silent. I contemplated taking a photo of the singer but decided not to as despite placing himself as a potential target for a beer bottle thrown by an impatient hipster, capturing his moment of calm before the storm seemed intrusive.
While it was obvious that there were a handful of scenesters there who more interested in who would show up for Shrinebuilder’s third-ever public performance, many were loyal followers of openers Liturgy, a black metal (New Yawk style – completely stripped of anything European influenced) quartet of Brooklynites who were initially puzzling with their Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – inspired chanting but quickly (and thankfully) quickly created an impressive wall of sound, thanks to kick-ass drummer Greg Fox who drove the band, always keeping a step ahead of them. Some have dismissed Liturgy as what appears to be a somewhat frightening trend of New York hipster indie bands that are trading in their navel-gazing ethos for the more rigorous and challenging black metal, but based on the crowd I don’t think anyone really cared about that. Could they deliver the goods? Yes. Did they satisfy their followers? Yes. Would I purchase their latest album, Renihilation? Probably not, but still impressive.
Little Rock’s Rwake was up next and after expelling a large sigh from his seated position on stage, standing up and stretching, vocalist C.T got down to business and within about three minutes positioned himself as having one of best stage presences from a front man I have seen in awhile. The meditation suddenly made sense as he threw his body (including some pretty righteous flared jeans) into the band’s 40-minute performance, showing great intensity without being cheesy but most importantly, the bands heavy set of sludge/doom made his facial and body contortions realistic. Co-vocalist / sampler B (who I thought at first was a Tech when she came out to set up the sampler on a rickety chair) was also a standout and the other four members, whom all seemed pretty conservative in their stage presence, let the two rock out.
At the Mastodon / Neurosis show in Brooklyn last year, I remembered being a bit surprised when Steve Von Till came out to set up his own pedals after Mastodon’s crew had taken away their instruments. I had automatically thought that they would have a crew to do such things, but in hindsight, von Till probably wanted to do it himself. So when a bespectacled Wino casually appeared onstage to set up his gear, I thought, ‘cool’ and took some test shots. But I could barely contain my excitement when Scott Kelly, Al Cisneros and Dale Crover quietly joined Wino, set up their stuff, pointedly ignored the choruses of cheers and the prerequisite ‘I love you, man’ from some drunk/high audience member and just started playing.
Barely acknowledging the crowd (besides Kelly swatting at the douchebag photographer beside me that despite being previously warned not to use flash when he positioned his camera about six inches from Kelly’s face, used flash) and at times, no-so great mics, the quartet pulled off all of the five tracks and four additional ones (I read that at a previous show they did a cover of Joy Division’s “24 Hours”). What impressed me the most was that despite not even looking at each other, they played like they had been playing together all of their lives.
Also, you could distinctly hear and see what each one brought to the table, yet they seamlessly melded together: Wino, who did a fair bit of the singing (and had a bevy of young nubile women who seemed to be hovering at his feet at his side of the stage), brought delicate harmonies, a slow and steady, groovy, hippy/stoner mysticism that was so deep and powerful it was almost mellow, ala St.Vitus. Kelly provided the atmospheric quality and tension that, especially during “Pyramid of the Moon” reminded me of Neurosis’s The Eye of Every Storm. Because I stood at the stage for the duration of the show, it was interesting to watch his facial expressions, which ranged from deep concentration, salacious lip licking to vicious snarls.
Besides the music veering more to a groovier feel rather than the punk aesthetic of the Melvins, Crover’s distinctive raw, thundering drumming was there. The only one I wasn’t that familiar with was Om’s Cisneros, to watch him play bass was really interesting, as he doesn’t use a pick and has an unique way of holding the bass upright, cupping his fingers and strumming, all the while shaking his head and dancing with abandon. Definitely the most physically animated member, he and his playing were intriguing enough to check out some of Om’s records when I got back to Toronto.
Speaking of records, the merch table really sucked. I picked up the Shrinebuilder CD because I wanted a hard copy – I’m old-school like that – I would have bought the vinyl copy if I owned a record player. No Shrinebuilder shirts, none of the excellent posters from the Blackened Music Weekend in which the Sunday show was part of, and barely any merch from Liturgy and Rwake.
It was an interesting night and in retrospect, rather intense. For the most part and despite the differences in musical styles, the intensity of performances of the three bands set the atmosphere and thankfully minimized the heckling and the shoving. The fact that the performers were all veterans in the scene gained a level of respect from the sold-out crowd that unfortunately, I have never seen in the previous shows I’ve attended in The Big Apple.
Walking the 30 blocks back to my hotel with an open can of Bud ($1.40! Canadians should really sell beer at convenience stores), sweaty, tired and tipsy, I was elated that I was able to catch the show, pissed that most likely it would be a long time before they ever head over the Canadian border, but honoured to see these guys do their thing.