"This is the first song on our new album," Joy Subtraction's Abe Brennan announced last at the hi-dive, goofing on Cheap Trick after the first couple of songs of the set. Then the band hurtled into "Kill the Blue Dogs." The band's cutting guitar, propulsive drums and the accented flow of low end made each song seem fiery and unpredictable yet accessible.
Playing by putting his entire upper body to the task, Brian Polk created with Dave Lamothe an avalanche of rhythm off which Brennan could launch searing guitar leads and caustic lyrics that burn to the core of today's political and social ills.
Conviction? It would be difficult to find a band with more of it. Near the beginning of the set, the band performed a new song written by Polk. "He wrote everything," someone, possibly Lamothe, joked. Supposedly there were mistakes but it hardly mattered because it was one of the best songs of the show with Lamothe providing bass lines that enveloped you and Brennan and Polk sang together like they were in Mission of Burma.
One salient trait of the songs Joy Subtraction performed, mostly from its new album The Essential Joy Subtraction, of course, was the urgent menace that ran through the material. Like these guys are fully aware of and channeling the undercurrent of desperation, despair and outrage that is not even under the surface of the collective American consciousness these days. Though it was obvious the trio was performing with the fire in their bellies, there was also a clear sense of humor informing their unrelenting critique both in words and music to create a sonic purging of the anomy that plagues us.
The performance of Joy Subtractions cover of Minutemen's "This Ain't No Picnic" showed a band capable of mastering the challenging musicianship of that song and band in general. They made it their own. At the end, Brennan told us we would get an encore, "Whether you want it or not." He kept his word but everyone definitely wanted that encore.
The show started off with Shining Wires. It looked like a couple of guys that used to be in Only Thunder. Musically it sounded like it drew inspiration from late '90s melodic hardcore and emo like Christie Front Drive and Hot Water Music. But without any of the aggression, which worked in its favor. At one point, the guitarist engaged in a section of sculpted feedback in a way that made it musical and not just for texture -- which is something you rarely see from anyone. The songs seemed to be about every day disappointments that feel like they're crushing your spirit but that in writing the song and even hearing it, it gets easier to lift yourself up from the grinding wheel of life's little setbacks.
Accordion Crimes was in high form and the trio even played a new song or two. Bryon Parker's incendiary, jagged guitar work coupled with his vocal delivery alternately calm-but-outraged-teenage-litany and emotionally eruptive were perfect for his words castigating social and personal ills with a rare and unexpected poetic clarity.
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Bryan Feuchtinger laid out fuzzy bass riffs with a calm enhanced by being caught up in the moment when the band came together in the headiest moments as David Sprague raised his arms high to count out down sweeps of the band's heaviest hits. Closing with "Super Soft Knife," the guys started out with a tense, hypnotic section of music that escalated to moments of almost unbelievable intensity and catharsis.
Fortunately Il Cattivo was up to the task of following Accordion Crimes with Jed Kopp setting the pace with a burst of incredible forward momentum with his drums. This is a band that seems to be hurtling forward throughout its set taking moments to enjoy a moment of peace before heading back into the sonic fray. It was those moments of unexpected grace, beauty and clarity that gave this performance a feeling that this quintet had tightened its edges a bit more. Once again it was interesting to see the complimentary yet contrasting guitar styles of Matt Bellinger and Arj Narayan. One at times more chaotic yet rhythmic than the other whose directed, strong leads wove into one another really well. Cattivo performed a new song called "The Unenviable Burden of Your Beautiful Face," which is supposed to come out on the next record. It was reminiscent of the Badmotorfinger period of Soundgarden but more metallic and stretched out by escalating melodies.
Personal Bias: Even though, as Abe Brennan joked, most of the bands had a former drummer of Ghost Buffalo as a member, I've still managed to enjoy their bands over the last couple of years. And Ghost Buffalo as well.
Random detail: Ran into Mike Perfetti of Gun Street Ghost, Ideal Fathers and Johnny Knows Karate at the show.
By the way: The Essential Joy Subtraction is one of the best post-punk albums of recent years without the band trying to sound at all like Joy Division.
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