Having lived in Los Angeles for four years now I really have no excuse for never having been to Spaceland, a tiny indie venue up in indie rock mecca Silverlake. I don’t do shows as much since leaving Chicago; part of this is money, part agoraphobia, part the remaining strains of heartbreak that accompanied watching the fall of the once great Wicker Park scene in my home town; clubs closed, turned into yuppie or rap bars and memories got stepped on. But now that I’ve been to Spaceland, well, I’ll be going back any chance I get. What a great venue ($5 to park? In LA? $11 for a round of two good beers on draft**? Intimate club layout and, and great sound? Wow!). And what a great way to be introduced to the club, because as high as my expectations were for A Place To Bury Strangers live the band soared leagues of brilliance above them.
But first, the openers.
Useless Keys is a local Los Angeles band. I knew nothing about them going in, didn’t even know who they were, but once they took the stage our conversation came to a stop on the dime. Big, pounding drums and deep, carving bass lines held in the raging torrent of fuzzy, angular guitars that defined most of their set. There’s a definite Sonic Youth sentimentality here, not because Useless Keys sound like them, but because they apply the same outside-the-box approach to the electrical aspect of their instruments (this is something I love, have always strove to integrate into my own music, and a common, joyous thread all three bands on the bill this night shared). The rhythms pounded, the feedback wailed and some very interesting guitar effects were employed to give the songs unique and sometimes eerie textures.
Next was Light Pollution, who wouldn’t you know it hailed from my home town of Chicago, Illinois. Light Pollution worried me a bit at first; I try not to judge people by what they wear but when standing in an indie bar these days you’re always straddling the line between the dimension of innovation and the realm of the dreaded hipster. Let’s just say Light Pollution took a loooong time setting up (far longer than either of the other bands), several members arrived dressed in clothing that definitely fit that ‘people-used-to-wear-these-atrocious-artifacts-and-now-we’re-bringing it-back-for-irony’s-sake’** look that hipsters flaunt so gaudily and there seemed to be a lot of that ‘can I have more me in the monitor’ thing going on. But really is any of that important? Not when I tell you that despite appearances Light Pollution’s set was pretty goddamn awesome. Another electrical advantageous group of forward-thinking individuals with definite epic leanings – I wasn’t as moved as I was with Useless Keys, whose E.P. I snapped up for a mere $5 (worth every penny), but it was a good precursor to…
When A Place To Bury Strangers took the stage it was quickly and without warning. Probably not ten minutes after Light Pollution pulled the last of their gear off the stage the lights went down and Strangers began, opening immediately with In Your Heart, the second track and I guess ‘single’ off their most recent, 2009 album Exploding Head. If you’d asked me beforehand I would have assumed the group would have saved this song for much later in the set and I took it as a declaration of the evening’s agenda that they played it first. In Your Heart is tough as nails in a sonic/industrial way and yet still catchy as all hell. To me the track hearkens back to the era of late nights spent dancing to Tones on Tail/Bauhaus and The Cure in goth/new wave clubs such as Chicago’s Neo, Dayton’s 1470 or Seattle’s Noc Noc – I’ve blogged before about the sonic similarities to Bauhaus Strangers entails within it’s cacophonic lead guitar and throbbingly melodic bass lines. This was even more apparent live, a virtual re-working of many 80’s Rough Trade era musical sentimentalities, where the club is dark, choked with fog and the band, looming somewhat dangerously just meters before you disappear in and out of mad, strobing lights and images. Again, I hate to get by on comparisons, but this is the kind of thing bands like the assassins were trying to do eight years ago but failing because of pretentious underpinnings. There’s no pretension with AP2BS – there’s just sonic destruction and visual chaos.
By the end of their set, which stabbed repeatedly through Exploding Head while working in a pretty good amount of songs from their first, self-titled album and even, I believe a new track, the group had completely disappeared into a pulsating vortex of glaring white light. The last thing I remember seeing is singer/guitarist Oliver Ackerman thrashing his guitar through the air in front of his amp by severed strings while sonic madness pierced the ether and ignited the tiny hairs inside my ear into the throws of some innate aural defense mechanism. Some kind of light-control box in Ackerman’s other hand triggered an explosion of images across the stage and the group even, and then it was as if the stage disappeared and was replaced by a massive dimensional rift. The distortion and feedback rang out for several minutes, the crowd no longer certain if it was coming from the three men on stage (were they even still on stage?) or from some unholy rift torn into the very fabric of the club, echoing interstellar frequencies into the heart of Silverlake and leaving my ears ringing (in a good way) my senses drugged and my mind on fire (pretty close to literally).
Summation: A Place To Bury Strangers is, as they advertise on their myspace, ‘Total Sonic Annihilation’.
* And well maintained taps. I was drinking Stone’s biting IPA and my wife Blue Moon which was accompanied by the ever elusive orange slice that wasn’t soggy and soaked in Maraschino cherry juice.
** 80’s running shorts? Really??? Why do so many people insist on bringing this shit back when those of us that lived through it are still consuming drugs and alcohol to try and forget it?