Live: Dillinger Escape Plan Bring the Spaz
Run away! Run away!
Dillinger Escape Plan + A Life Once Lost + Genghis Tron + Shat Blender Theater December 16, 2007
My friend Jim has a story about his first Dillinger Escape Plan show, upstairs at a Syracuse coffeehouse in the pre-Puciato days: As soon as the lights went down, before the band played so much as a note, someone punched him full in the face. That was a long time ago. DEP are in their tenth year, and they've become a venerable touring institution, a circus that comes to town a couple of times a year. Since their drummer split to join indefensible emo-proggers Coheed & Cambria earlier in the year, they're down to one original member. And their stage-show has ossified into ritual: the skittery shredding, the stage-dives, the scream-alongs. But if you haven't seen the band in a while, it's still pretty jarring when the band hits its first riff and bodies immediately fly like shrapnel in all directions. Ten years in, Dillinger still bring the chaos.
I can't listen to Dillinger Escape Plan records. The band's whole thing is discordant slashing rupture, and so they do everything they possibly can to prevent their math-metal pyrotechnics from settling into formula. Given that they raised their technical barrage to an unsurpassable level with their first album, they've had to resort to straight-up annoying their audience since. Wriggling high-pitched guitars and piercing screams and falling-down-stairs drum tumult are old standbys for this band, but Ire Works, their new album, also factors in wailing falsetto screeches and messy smears of synth and contrarian globs of mutant chartpop. It doesn't make for a particularly easy listen, but it also doesn't make for a particularly rewarding one, and I can barely manage to make it through five tracks in a sitting. Onstage, though, their jittery antagonism becomes an asset, especially when it's married to frontman Greg Puciato's theatrical antics. For all the pinpoint precision, this is totally physical music.
After calmly entering the dark room last night while ominous ambient music droned and a silent film of a woman being hypnotized played on a projection-screen, all four non-drumming members became restless blurs of motion the second the first song started, and a pretty serious chunk of the audience followed suit. The whole back half of the Blender Theater is set up like an actual movie theater, with comfortable padded chairs set up stadium-seating-style. Those seats were full, and I couldn't help but sympathize with the people filling them; the whole floor was the domain of the spin-kicking psycho set. A Dillinger show in Syracuse six years ago was the first place I saw someone execute a perfect cartwheel in the middle of a pit. It was also the first time I saw Puciato, new to the band at the time, spit flammable liquid on a flaming torch he was holding aloft; the resulting fireball came within inches of front-row faces. That was in a small and packed-in club; last night's show was in a much bigger venue, so Puciato was free to blow a few massive balls of flame without worrying about hitting anyone. During the first two songs, he also executed two sudden balletic stage-dives, either of which could've resulted in a fractured skull on a concrete floor if the crowd hadn't broken his fall. A little while later, he climbed maybe twenty feet up the scaffolding on the side of the stage, clutching his mic all the while. Original vocalist Dmitiri Minakakis came out to sing backup on one new track and proved to be just as imposing a presence as Puciato, even if he didn't return for any of the songs he'd helped to write and record. During the same song, someone rushed onstage in a skeleton costume, stripped down to one of those neon-green Borat thong-singlets, and then promptly disappeared. Stuff like this just happens at Dillinger shows. And when their spazzed-up assault is soundtracking a near-riot, it suddenly makes sense.
Voice review: George Smith on the Dillinger Escape Plan's Miss Machine
Next to Dillinger, Philly thud-metal neanderthals A Life Once Lost, third on the bill, seem almost utilitarian in their assault, their grunted trudges and headbang-heavy stage-presence almost workmanlike in comparison. Nevertheless, though, this is effective stuff, especially when the band eases up on the constant time-signature changes and gives its rhythm section enough room to swing. At their best, ALOL can cause Pantera flashbacks: epic melodic bits give way to grainy martial chants and blunt-object riffage. But these guys can't do chaos anywhere near as expertly as Dillinger can, and the crowd stayed docile except during the crunching mosh-part breakdowns. When vocalist Robert Meadows came out to guest-scream during Dillinger's set, he looked unspeakably delighted to be in on a spazzout way more intense than any that his own band had managed.
The Philly tech-metal trio Genghis Tron also couldn't match up to the headliners, but for different reasons. Genghis Tron is too quick to go for cerebral IDM rupture; I'd like them a lot better if they focused on their synthed-up krautrock grooves and surprisingly pretty ominous-quiet bits. But this band's attention span is way too short; as soon as they find a good thing, they spin off into something else within seconds, and so they end up sounding weirdly tentative: not brutal, just unfinished. Their stage-presence never amounts to much since all three members (one guitarist, two keyboardists) are too focused on the labor-intensive chore of generating this racket. Good news: "Board Up the House," the title track of their upcoming album, settles all their restless tendencies into a serious big-riff charge. Maybe they're on their way someplace great. But for, now, the mid-period Aphex Twin freakouts are a problem. I'd really hoped to go my entire critical career without once using the term drill-n-bass, and last night these fools made it impossible, so I sort of hate them for that.
When I talk about hating the actively repulsive comedy-core openers Shat, though, I don't have to add any qualifier. Frontman Jeff Wood used to play bass for DEP; now he's more notorious for his dildo-mohawk helmet than anything else. Dildos figure heavily in Wood's live show: besides the helmet, he wears a dildo-goatee chinstrap, dildo-spiked armbands and shin-guards, a dildo crucifix, and a big dildo sticking out of his thong underwear. And he doesn't wear anything else. (His band, tasteful in comparison, rock shit-stained tighty-whities, disturbing rubber baby-masks, and nothing else.) So: Dildos. That's basically all you need to know about his band. Even with those sub-Gwar getups, it doesn't take long to realize that these guy is just grunting out one-joke personality-free pastiche-metal about pussy and basically nothing else. "God is good, God is great / Thank God for the pussy I just ate": that's not just a lyric; it's an entire song. At least Lee Ving was funny, you know? The only funny part of Shat's show was when they tried to get a call-and-response chant going: "I threw up on her cunt!" / [Hostile silence] / "I threw up on her cunt!" / [Hostile silence].
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