Liturgy and Lightning Bolt Destroy Dante’s 4/29
Written by Spokane Andrew on May 4, 2015
I shouldn’t have worn my glasses. On Wednesday night, a trio of bands rained down an aural assault on an enthusiastic, open-eared audience at Dante’s in downtown Portland. Bathed in the venue’s distinctive red glow, the performers Consumer, Liturgy, and Lightning Bolt put on an ever-more-intense show that eventually left most in attendance tired, bruised, dripping with sweat, and very, very happy.
The night started out with a bang, as Consumer, Portland’s own Matt Palenski, threw himself into a maelstrom of loops and abrasive keyboards, playing with conviction in spite of a malfunctioning microphone. His music– a creation I can only describe as thrashy noise-house–was a perfectly brutal warmup: carnivalesque keys, fuzzed-out beats, top-of-the-lungs screams…it actually kind of reminded me of Battles, if Battles wanted to test people’s fight-or-flight instinct rather than make them dance. The whole set lasted only fifteen minutes or so, but that was all that was needed; and considering the rather unapproachable nature of the music, Consumer left to surprisingly appreciative applause.
Between sets, I did some people watching, as it’s always an interesting experiment to see what a band’s demographic says about them. This night certainly was diverse. A quick observation of band T-shirts in the crowd showed not just the expected Mastodon and Black Breath, but also a large number of late-80s to mid-90s alternative bands such as Sonic Youth, Husker Du, and the Jesus Lizard. I figured this was due to Liturgy’s boundary-shattering approach to a rather confining genre…
Liturgy are famous for being philosophical and academic about their music, and that intelligence definitely translated in their live set. Serious, but passionate, singer/guitarist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix and co. chugged through their particular brand of what they call “transcendental black metal,” to mixed effect. Yes, it was rather thrilling music, but its translation to a live setting was kind of hit-or-miss, especially given Hunt-Hendrix’s monotone, droning style of singing. Thankfully, drummer Greg Fox puts a whole lot of life into the show–a needed counterpoint to his bandmates’ more staid approach to performance. His lyrical drumming was a delight to watch, and it was clear that he is not a pure metal drummer, splitting his time with bands like Zs. The real problem is that Liturgy requires patience to listen to, and the band seems to revel in the difficulty of their art; a couple times, Hunt-Hendrix looked up with a seemingly bemused expression over an audience that didn’t quite know what to do with itself. One of Liturgy’s greatest strengths is their ability to stretch a song to 10 minutes and still make it interesting by playing every single iteration of a 9-note progression, but it butts right up against what most audiences want to do, and that is move. Even riff monster “Veins of God” changed up so much it was hard to get into any sort of participatory rhythm. In short, Liturgy played some incredibly brainy, deeply un-moshable music, and the audience, while they seemed to enjoy it, were getting a little antsy by the time it was all said and done.
But this audience wasn’t here for Liturgy. It was here for Lightning Bolt. Where Liturgy was all Columbia-educated philosophy and academics, Lightning Bolt was pure id. In a set plagued with technical difficulties, the noise-punk-freak-thrash-weirdo duo of Brian Gibson and Brian Chippendale, armed respectively with a super-reflective five-string bass and drums that look like they were designed by Oscar the Grouch, ripped through a set of feedback-laden, deafness-inducing songs with mischievous, ebullient gusto, exponentially ramping up the energy of the previously-ambivalent crowd. This is where the 80s/90s alternative band shirts made sense…these folks obviously enjoyed crunchy, noisy guitar rock, and Lightning Bolt delivered in spades. Bedlam ensued; I’ve always been incredibly impressed with Portland crowds’ support for bands they love, and Wednesday’s crowd LOVED Lightning Bolt. Engagement was the name of the game, with Chippendale’s humorous jabs between songs providing brief respite from the near-constant moshing, stranger-high-fiving, dancing and thrashing about of the human tide at his feet. Gibson played stoic counterpoint, his mostly-stone-faced approach to virtuosic bass playing the perfect foil to Chippendale’s mania. The crowd before them remained a pulsing, sweating, partying mess, where more than once I had to catch my glasses out of midair as they flew off my dripping face.
It was awesome.