Lightning Bolt/Parts & Labor/Spelling Bee Luminary Center for the Arts April 23, 2011
If you see Lightning Bolt, you will hurt afterwards. Your ears, obviously, will be sore, for the Providence, Rhode Island duo is famously deafening. I took proper precautions for last night's sold-out show, arming myself with earplugs and keeping a distance from the anticipated circle of party people hovering near the band. Still, I left the Luminary fatigued, as if my skull was a snow globe filled with bees.
Again, I expected the pain; I even took a nap first. Lightning Bolt's songs always reminded me of fuzzed up takes on Philip Glass's exhausting repetition. A certified influence on the band, Glass used amplified, cyclical patterns to create psycho-acoustic effects. Lightning Bolt utilizes similar techniques to generate a physical response from its audience. Reactions varied, but the bravest patrons congregated around Brian Chippendale's drum kit and Brian Gibson's bass rig in a ritual that was half mosh pit, half Chinese fire drill. I even saw a few crowd surfers. These folks provided the visual stimulation for those (like me) who weren't daring enough to step into or near the line of fire in order to see the band performing on the floor.
Lightning Bolt is often tagged as a noise band, but its set had all the makings of a classic hardcore punk show. There was tension in having such a pristine venue host such scuzzy music. At worst, this bred a few light security issues: overenthusiastic dancers were warned, one show-crasher ejected. The most prevalent conflict existed between the band and the crowd. Lightning Bolt presents itself as a dare, its sets as tests of physical and mental endurance. If Spelling Bee's twenty minute opening set of peppy fuzz punk was a pizza, Lightning Bolt's hour long brain drain was a Pointers Pizza 28 inch, ten-pound Pointersaurus challenge.
The audience was up for it, demanding an encore after the initial round of punishment. Lightning Bolt obliged with the requested "Ride The Sky." Truthfully, it had taken the Brians some time to get their gears aligned early in the set. Some songs lacked motion and the delay pedal on Chippendale's vocals occasionally stepped into dub-remix territory. But the spurts of blast beats on "Ride The Sky" were easily the most powerful moments of the night.
Parts & Labor performed directly before Lightning Bolt with a complete opposite trajectory. The quartet came out of the gates locked in and kicking (likely just trying to maintain Spelling Bee's abundant energy) but gradually lost steam; its welcome had been mostly outstayed by the two-song warning. In fairness, a second audience was already forming around Lightning Bolt's off-stage setup by the end of Parts & Labor's set. The Brooklyn group mostly succeeded, but it must be tough to open for the Lightning Bolt spectacle.
An acquaintance likened Lightning Bolt's set to a spiritual catharsis. The show may have been a rite of passage or something to remove from the bucket list. But right now, home and nursing a headache, I don't know whether or not I feel like a better person for having witnessed Lightning Bolt. I'll re-evaluate after I recover. It might take a week or so.
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