Live Review: A Place to Bury Strangers

Categories: Last Night

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A Place to Bury Strangers
Wednesday, October 8
Larimer Lounge
Better Than:
Sitting at home crying because My Bloody Valentine won’t come to Denver.

After last night’s show, it wasn’t so much that my ears hurt or were ringing; it was more like my head was encased in a sine wave-emitting helmet.

Denver’s own the Swayback opened up the evening. For a band that doesn’t sound all that unusual, they’re kind of hard to describe—is it sludge-punk? Drone-garage? Psych-dance-grunge? It doesn’t really matter, I suppose; the band’s set found it in fine form. Frontman Eric Halborg seemed a bit less animated than when I last saw the band, at Monolith, but as a whole, the group seemed tighter and more in its element.

The Sian Alice Group’s decent out-music pedigree (the group is on The Social Registry, home to Gang Gang Dance and, uh, Jena Malone) and unique instrumentation (violin and pocket trumpet (!) in addition to the standard rock-band setup) had me intrigued before the players began, and they went on to partially fulfill my hopes. Frontwoman Sian Alice is an arresting presence on stage; she sings in an often-wordless soprano that brings to mind a slightly less seraphic Elizabeth Fraser, and, with her prim brown dress and leggings, nineteenth-century shoes and jet-black hair, she looked as though she belonged in an art museum rather than a dingy rock club. When, in the last song, she started whipping around her hair and clapping, she was mesmerizing. Her Group mostly stuck to a noisy psych-rock that would occasionally get stuck in aimless riffing, the kind of jamming that probably feels much better to play than to listen to. Still, the band could kick up quite a racket, and when it worked, it worked well, especially when juxtaposed with Alice standing there like a naïf, focusing intently on her triangle as though nothing else was more important.

As A Place to Bury Strangers did its final sound-check, I did a quick visual earplug survey, and indeed, I saw far more stuffed ears than I usually do at a show — some people, either desperate or thrifty, just shoved paper in their ears. I had meant to bring some, but forgot — oh well, I thought, I’d never worn any at a show before, and the band can’t be that loud, can it?

Oh, yes it can.

Without preamble, Oliver and company began the assault with an unidentified new song, then spent the next forty minutes playing material from their self-titled debut, along with a couple more new songs.

Now, saying that A Place to Bury Strangers is loud and noisy doesn’t really say much, nor does it do justice to what the band can accomplish with its array of custom effects pedals. Last night, the songs were even more buried than on record, which wasn’t surprising. What was surprising, however, was the amount of musicality that shrouded the noise. Songs like “Don’t Think Lover” and “I Know I’ll See You” featured stacks and stacks of overtones that became as important a melodic element as the original riffs lurking far beneath. It is no mere white noise that Oliver Ackermann has learned to summon from his machines.

I was enjoying myself well enough, happy with this insight and pleased with but not overwhelmed by the performance, when, in the middle of a new song, Ackermann spooked me by suddenly looking up. It was the first time in the whole set that he had done so, and he looked either lost and scared or totally in a trance. It was genuinely creepy, as though something had snapped.

Shortly after this, the strobe lights kicked in, Ackermann started slinging his guitar around by its strap, and then by its patch cord, and the performance went quickly from good to hair-raising. Looking absolutely deranged in the strobe lights, Ackermann wrestled around with the guitar for a few more seconds, the noise reaching absolutely insane levels, while bassist Jonathan “Jono MOFO” Smith and drummer Jay Space vamped. Ackermann finally left the guitar and grabbed another, and the vamp segued into album closer “Ocean.” I kid you not — this was among the most goosebump-raising bits of live performance I have ever seen.

And, impossibly, they kept it up; “Ocean” ended with yet another session of guitar-throwing, just as thrilling as the last — never underestimate the power of strobe lights and a fog machine in the right situation — and then the band simply left the stage. No wave, nothing. The crowd stood there as though it had been recently lobotomized; hardly anyone clapped. The slam-dancing moron in front of me, however, yelled as loud as he could for the members to come back for an encore. And, improbably — I certainly wasn’t expecting it — they did, picking up more or less exactly where they left off, with a long vamp on the end of “Ocean,” with Ackermann unleashing great holy hell from his pedal board before a crowd mostly too stunned to move. This time when the act exited, Ackermann did wave. A post-show glance at the first guitar he was using revealed that it had no strings left — he had destroyed every single one.

-- Kyle Smith

Critic’s Notebook

Personal Bias: Honestly, I wasn’t totally sold on A Place to Bury Strangers before last night. Ackermann’s songwriting style is fairly derivative—one part Psychocandy, one part Disintegration, one-half part Broken — and while I liked the band’s self-titled debut well enough, I wasn’t sure if all the hype surrounding the group was justified. I was wrong.
Random Detail: Ackermann is the only guitarist I’ve ever seen strum and use the whammy bar at the same time.
By the Way: Dear Larimer Lounge (and all other venues to which this might apply): Unless they do this without your knowledge, I think it’s really lame that you let Camel reps walk around your patio.

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