Lightning Bolt may be the best live band you’ve never seen. Friday’s show at GLOB is sure to have made more than a few believers in the power of two guys, bass and drums and one tightly packed, sweaty throng of humanity. Now touring in support of their new album Fantasy Empire, their first in five years, bassist Brian Gibson and drummer Brian Chippendale have been blowing minds and ear drums all over the country. And frankly after twenty years as a band, it’s about time they got some attention.
For the uninitiated, Lightning Bolt is a spastic, noisy onslaught of rhythm and fuzz. Chippendale looks like a cartoon caricature of a drummer trying to beat his kit to death while Gibson just goes bananas playing looping, howling riffs. But perhaps the thing that makes Lightning Bolt a great live band is their insistence on eliminating completely the chasm between performer and audience. The pair play on the floor among the crowd, almost becoming part of the sweaty, pulsating crowd. It’s a big, loud, sweaty jumble of chaos and noise, and it’s just plain beautiful.
Chippendale says while the band has done some touring around the world in the past half decade they were in a bit a slump where actually recording a new album was concerned.
“It was kind of like we were stuck in this glue," says Chippendale, sitting on the dusty floor of the GLOB warehouse in North Denver prior to Friday night’s show. “We were trying to record in the way we always did before, with a friend in a warehouse space and it felt like we were beating our heads against a wall.”
Eventually they decided to give the more traditional approach a try, choosing Machines With Magnets, a studio near their hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, to pop their studio cherry. Other great bands like Battles and the Body have recently recorded there so they knew they’d be in good hands.
“We went into the studio a little apprehensive,” says Chippendale. “We’ve never used separation before or digital editing. We always just set up and played. We didn’t know how to do any computer stuff. It’s always been these weird things like DAT machines or whatever. This time I even did a couple takes on some of the vocals.”
The result is the phenomenal Fantasy Empire, Lightning Bolt’s first for Thrill Jockey Records. There’s no question it’s a step forward in the band’s recorded cannon. What exactly is different is hard to pin down but, judging by the sweat – and smile-covered faces leaving GLOB Friday night, it clearly translates into a live setting.
“It wasn‘t like we took a big U-turn,” says Chippendale. “In the old days we could just blow through things. Now I try to have a little more precision with my vocals. Soundwise, I think it’s a little bit of a cleaner sound. I remember a friend texting me like, 'Wow you have cymbals on this record!’ Obviously we’ve always had cymbols, it’s just clearer. Being in the studio just invigorated the process again.“