An interesting show for sure. Preoccupations toured in support of their self-titled album shortly after its release last fall, hitting the major markets, but here they hit some of the more B-leaning cities. This show visited the upstairs floor at Columbus Theatre, an older theater located in the historic Federal Hill district of the city. The room was a small, seated space, with 200 seats and a stage low to the floor, and an attendance of probably around 40 to 50 at most on a pretty drizzly, wet night.
Local act Host opened things up at 9:15. He was a one-man instrumental post-rocker guitarist who sat in a folding chair and played meticulous riffs he layered using loop pedals. The riffs would get kinda mathy at times, actually reminding me a bit of Foals, though I certainly don’t think that’s what he was going for. Overall it was more in the realm of bands like the Mercury Program or Maserati, perhaps. It certainly wasn’t bad, and was very much its own thing as an opening set for Preoccupations. He played a taut 25 minutes, with a longer song at the end.
Preoccupations (fka Viet Cong, as you might have remembered from their controversial past) stepped up just under a half-hour later with a great set of their noisy post-punk that really made the entire atmosphere that much more sinister and eerie. There was an excellent balance between the studio precision of their most recent album and mixing it up for a noisier and more raucous live feel. Bassist and frontman Matt Flegel’s voice had a tendency to heighten the aggression, or snarl and snivel more than on record (check this quick clip of “Continental Shelf” I filmed for an example). The occasional dual synths were a great touch, but the band wouldn’t hesitate to lean on their alternately gnarled and chiming guitars, nailing all the little weird rhythmic changes of their songs in the process.
There’s a certain level of energy needed in their presence and sound they exhibited well too, ratcheting up the intensity when called for while adhering to the complexity of all the little dynamic shifts that happen as well. This was especially crucial here as they played some of their longer songs like “Memory” and closer “Death,” where I’m almost certain they extended the latter’s punishing bridge out even more before propelling into its quick ending. Man, that part was long, with the band somehow bashing away without a hitch; when the stage left guitarist (who made a nice show of perching on the balls of his feet while playing at moments, and leaning down lots, really feelin’ it) looked at their drummer with a smirk, it sure seemed like they were dragging it out for the fun of it. But highlight singles like the opening one-two of “Anxiety” and “Continental Shelf” were great, melodic bangers too.
The crowd, while seated, definitely seemed to enjoy it all around, shimmying in their theater chairs and thigh-drumming along. There was one shaggy-haired fellow in the front row who insisted upon standing up for the duration of the set, though I don’t think he was blocking anyone’s view.
The band was warm and friendly despite the coldness of their sound (not to mention shitty weather and somewhat underwhelming attendance figures), with pleasant member introductions, gratitude to venue staff for replenishing their beers mid-song, and making sure we were all comfy in our aging seats (the general response was affirmative, to my disbelief).
Set list (10:06-11:12):
- Continental Shelf
- Select Your Drone
- March of Progress
- Bunker Buster