Summer announced its arrival in Philadelphia with increased temperature and the reoccurrence of the First Unitarian Church's infamous dreaded humidity. While summer would whisk itself away again for the following few weeks, on April 19, 2013, the basement of the First Unitarian Church was packed with thick air, sweaty bodies and anticipation. As sort of a revue of the modern "it" bands in punk rock, local promoter R5 Productions stacked the bill with the hottest new bands for a lineup featuring White Lung, Night Birds, Metz, and Iceage.
White Lung vocalist Mish Way took the stage looking somewhat like a fiercer Stevie Nicks. Her long platinum blonde hair draped down over long, flowing clothing while heavy bracelets and necklaces clacked with her movement. With little fanfare, the band started their set and blasted through about ten of their classic-sounding punk songs. Sounding like a cross between the Avengers and Bikini Kill, the band pounded out snappy, sharp riffs while Way called and screamed in her clean, but razor sharp voice. Noticeably, the band seemed to whip their bodies around the background while Way remained relatively in the same spot, directing the crown to her through hand gestures and threatening glares. Instead of forcing herself in front of the audience, she brought the audience to her. The breaks between songs halted the momentum of the performance a little bit, but while the band were actually playing, they played with twice the energy of their studio recordings. White Lung are definitely doing everything right.
Composed of punk veterans from The Ergs, Psyched to Die and other notable bands, Night Birds played a powerful set that showed what years of experience can get you. Perhaps more than any other band that night, they saluted the classic punk performance. Vocalist Brian Gorseger displayed an animated persona, marching up and down the stage, jumping in the air and getting down to his knees, all the while handing the mic to the audience during the chorus and ripping it back for himself during the verse. The band played raw, savage versions of their studio recordings, emphasizing both the energy, but also underlying song craft. These songs were punk for sure, but first and foremost, they were written in the classic rock and roll two and a half minute vein, demonstrating that the wild and classic can and do fit together wonderfully. Although the band were only second on the bill, they performed like headliners and veterans, rumbling through song after song with no breaks in between. A few new songs were played that showed that Night Birds are still in their winning streak of cutting songs that are all killer and no filler.
Next, Metz took the stage. After a few jokes that were as dry as the audience member's throats, the band started their set of dangerous, and rather unique sounding hardcore. Borrowing from the challenging punk meets metal of bands like Unsane, Swans, and the Cows, the band took the classic, thick intonation of late 80s hardcore and played with it. But instead of playing tired refrains and concepts, the band reassembled the sounds into unique and challenging structures. The effect was that the audience were kept on their toes, never knowing when a song would suddenly end or drift on in an ambient noise for another five minutes. Certainly, the excellent performances of the previous bands warmed up the crowd, but despite having some nasty sounds and unusual chemistry, Metz were warmly received by the crowd, despite their unusual nature. Certainly Metz is one of the most interesting alt-punk/metal/hardcore bands around today.
And finally, the big moment arrived. Denmark's Iceage took the stage. Dressed in khakis, button-up shirts and even sweaters despite the sweltering heat, the band very much echoed the look of early 80s indie music. A band's look isn't necessarily the most important thing in a live performance, but for a great deal of the audience, this was the their first brush with this mysterious band that has (wrongly) been liked to cults and other weird associations.
In the states, it seemed that Iceage appeared out of nowhere, dropping the You're Nothing LP with little warning and suddenly appearing across every blog and site that you could name. The album was challenging and surrounded in a mythos of its own, so it was fair to say that the majority of the audience was anxious to see what the band was really about.
On their first note, Iceage demonstrated why they stand out from their contemporaries as well as have been so divisive. While the night's previous North American bands focused their sound on the four/four down beat (and to a quite impressive effect, mind you) Iceage's sound was much more amorphous. Instead being driven forward, the band seemed to be in a constant state of tumble, notes dripping on top of notes.
The effect was that the sound was raw, chaotic, and quite unique. Although they maintained the energy of the previous bands, Iceage's sound itself seemed murkier and more clouded. At times they used the thickness of post-punk while at others, the metallic clang of modern hardcore luminaries Ceremony. Instead of making an impact with a snappy riff or crushing downbeat, the band sent messy waves into the audience that had shifting strands of sounds at all edges. Depending on where you stood, the band could sound quite different, giving them a most unusual, and a most interesting effect.
Vocalist Elais Ronnenfelt spent the performance yelping in a voice that was perfectly imperfect. At times he was raspy and at others he screeched and at others he howled, making his vocals as unexpected as they music itself. Resembling the epileptic snaps of Ian Curtis, Ronnenfelt was in a state of constant twisting, hanging his back over the audience, collapsing on the microphone or tilting forward in that unique Peter Murphy style of zombification. Meanwhile, guitarist Johan Wieth increased the wild string slinging from the LP, making his notes more frantic and perfectly off tempo, as was the wont of so many Amphetamine reptile bands.
Iceage's performance was as dangerous as it was dynamic. Right now they've got a few naysayers (and some supporters, too) but if the band can stick it out and cut through the barrage of confused criticism, they very well might have many a critic eating their words (and then some) twenty years from now.
-Prior to the show, I did significant record store exploration. Frankly, Philly can't stack up to the bay area, but there are some good stores and if you really do some digging, there be gold in them thar hills. I recommend Repo Records, Noise Pollution Records, and Long in the Tooth Records.
-On my way back home, I stopped at "Rising Sun" Chinese takeout on Walnut Street. Oh man, they had absolutely delicious Sezchuan Chicken. If you are looking for some late night grubs after a show at the FU church, tell 'em John sent you.
-CELEBRITY FASHION WATCH: Ceremony/Paint It Black guitarist Andy Nelson was seen taking tickets at the door, clothed in a stylish, but understated sweater that suggested both a punk foundation as well as an intellectual approach. Hair stylist to the punk rock stars Melissa Bruce was spotted wearing a classic Ramones style leather jacket that will never go out of style. Meanwhile, Punknews' Bryne Yancey rocked cheap-chic plastic sunglasses that were both Ferris Bueller and Blues Brothers. Of course, Yours Truly proudly displayed his Sedwick & Cedar Melle Mel shirt which was so anti-punk that it came back around to being punk again, thereby further cementing my punk-cred.