Noise-Rock is Neither Noise nor Rock: Discuss

thrones.JPGThrones portrait by Grant Siedlecki

Thrones + Growing + First Nation 102 Ingraham May 19, 2006

102 Ingraham is surrounded by nothing. The Bushwick warehouse performance space is a mile-and-a-half walk from my Greenpoint apartment, and I passed maybe three people on the street the whole way. I don't see how in the hell Bushwick is supposed to be an up-and-coming neighborhood; there are no corner stores or bars or restaurants anywhere. I didn't walk past anything except a housing project and a whole lot of vast, spooky, deserted warehouses. No indications that art kids live in some of these warehouses besides the occasional willfully weird graffiti piece. No sound except passing cars. Everything looked ruined and dead and dried-out, like someone dropped a neutron bomb on East Baltimore and the factories were all empty now. The place itself is all dusty and grimy: dirt on the floors, ashy indie-rock kids resting their beers on piles of lumber. If there's a better place in the city for screechy, apocalyptic noise-rock, I wouldn't want to go there.

But none of the bands that played at 102 Ingraham on Friday night really fit the screechy, apocalyptic noise-rock label. For a Todd P show, this was remarkably sedate: almost no drums or vocals, lots of reverb, more on some gooey, formless sound-meditation shit than the jagged, gargling bash-the-world thing I was half-expecting. The closest thing to bang-thump-skree stuff was the Thrones, the long running one-man band of occasional Melvins/Earth bassist Joe Preston. The last time I saw Preston, he was working as a hired gun for High on Fire, playing silent, grizzly hermit to Matt Pike's tattoos-aflame rockmonster. Since then, he's shaved his beard, and his speaking voice is a high-pitched nasal chirp, not the gravelly roar I'd imagined. His bass looks like the Batman insignia, but other than that he doesn't much fit the evil psychedelic backwoods wizard image that I'd mentally created for him. His music didn't fit it either; his tectonic fuzz-bass rumbles usually don't fit any recognizable rock context, and the implied-stomp drum machines are buried deep enough in the mix that they're basically a non-issue. He plays loud, really fucking loud, but I still saw at least one person in the audience falling asleep in a chair. So it's a bit weird when he starts singing all James Hetfield or doing creepy vocodered moans; he becomes something like the noise-metal Atom and his Package. And when he's doing loose, scraping space-sludge, it feels more like an endurance test than a rock show. It's a fun endurance test, though.

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Growing takes the whole spaced-up effects-pedal thing even further from rock, pushing Kevin Shields' smeary guitar aesthetic to extremes by dropping any pretense toward song-form. The band is just two guys with guitars, and you usually can't see either one if you're standing in the back because they're usually crouched hovering over their pedals. They don't have any mics onstage, don't speak to the crowd at all, and never break from their long, continuous blur. Their whole waves-of-softness thing is pretty in an in-the-womb sense, but it can get a bit boring, and I probably would've gone nuts if I'd tried to stand up front and just soak it in the whole time. It worked a lot better when I stayed at the back and let it do its job as ambient conversation-background hum, woozy dinner-party stuff.

Openers First Nation are three girls with some sort of vague Animal Collective connect, and they play trebley, spidery barely-there postpunk on drums and flutes and an autoharp or something. It's jagged but quiet and not quite pretty, like the Raincoats with all the pop and jangle forcibly removed. Nothing I heard from them was especially interesting, but it worked well enough with the billowy white curtains and pretty lights up onstage. I'd come to the show looking to have my head exploded, but it was more just nicely lulled into a zoned-out trance, and I'll take that.

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