On the televisions in the back of the Great Scott, the Boston Red Sox were working their way into the World Series, so the air was tense at first and jovial later on as Pelican came north from two Brooklyn CMJ shows for a sold-out gig with Kings Destroy and Boston’s own Phantom Glue: A bill of three bands I’d very much been looking forward to seeing. Pelican‘s Forever Becoming was still fresh in my head from reviewing it last week, so I was excited to see some of those songs live, and with memories of the mastery they displayed last year at Roadburn, it was all the better to catch them in a smaller space. Kings Destroy had an added element of intrigue for me, catching them out of their native NYC habitat, and since Phantom Glue were pretty high on my Boston-bands-I-gotta-see list (which, frankly, I can’t believe I haven’t made a post of yet), there was no way to lose. It had been a great day and it would be a great night.
As I’d learned the last time I was at the venue, it was dark. That seems to be how it goes. O’Brien’s, P.A.’s Lounge, Radio, Great Scott. All very cool places with no lights on. Fair enough, I guess. Nobody’s putting on shows for the people who show up with cameras, so there you go. Hardly impeded my enjoyment of Phantom Glue, who, again, I’d been anticipating a live encounter with more or less since I moved. Their vinyl-only summer ’13 outing, A War of Light Cones (review here), was a beast, and live, songs like “Perils” and “Biocult” only came across as meaner and rawer, the dueling barks of guitarist Matt Oates and bassist Nick Wolf tempering noise rock cruelties with modern metal sense of growl. It quickly became apparent that I was right to have high expectations for their set.
In a way, their t-shirts said it all. Wolf had Disfear, Oates had Karp, guitarist Mike Gowell had Harvey Milk and in back, drummer Kyle Rasmussen bore the logo of a demolition derby. So between them all, you had d-beat hardcore punk metal mixed with West Coast noise, unhinged creative doom and sheer destructive mechanical force for its own sake. I highly doubt the four guys in the band got together and were like, “Okay, tonight we’re going to go with the band-summation wardrobe,” but I’ll be damned if it didn’t work out that way anyhow, and for what it’s worth, their identity seemed to have been long since carved from these elements. They were comfortable on stage, delivered a powerful (and loud) set, and they’re a local act I’m very much looking forward to getting to know better. For even just a first time seeing them, though, they impressed.
And to have them go on right before Kings Destroy as well emphasized a clear difference in my mind — namely that between aggression and confrontation. Phantom Glue were aggressive; a heavy, move-the-air kind of band that lacked nothing in presence. Kings Destroy, their New York hardcore pedigree seeping through in a way that you’d say was in spite of them if they didn’t seem to enjoy it so much, are confrontational, directly challenging their audience. In Brooklyn, which is by far where I’ve seen them most, one almost takes this as a given. In Boston, when vocalist Steve Murphy jumped off the stage and went into the crowd at the end of “Blood of Recompense” from this year’s A Time of Hunting, it was more of a surprise. That’s not to say New England doesn’t have its own hardcore lineage — you can’t walk through Harvard Square without being spin-kicked at least twice — just that the approach is different.
Kings Destroy loved it, and speaking of kicks, guitarist Carl Porcaro got one from fellow six-stringer Chris Skowronski to wake him up as the solo in “Medusa” went long. They were loose, having played with Pelican in New York the night before, but dead on all the same, bassist Aaron Bumpus playing through a Sunn head I’ve seen smoke rise from the back of before with a tone that only made the already-full room more temperate. As ever, I fucking loved “The Toe,” which I’d argue is the transitional moment between the more straightforward riffery of the Maple Forum alums’ first album and the gleeful weirdness of cuts like “Shattered Pattern” and “Turul” from the second, taking cues from multiple impulses and setting them to drummer Rob Sefcik‘s steady groove. “Turul” wasn’t aired at Great Scott, but “Shattered Pattern” followed “Old Yeller” as the second song they played, which seemed bold for how quiet parts of it are, but “The Toe,” “Casse-Tête” and “The Mountie” set a steady roll that continued from there on out as they got more and more riotous toward their finish.
I’ve never regretted watching them play — their confrontationalism fascinates all the more outside New York; it’s fun to watch them catch people off guard – and by the time they were done, monitors had been toppled, P.A. speakers pushed, and Murphy had gone so far into the crowd that a path had to be cut for him to put the mic back on the stage. Not that Pelican needed it, being instrumental, but one doesn’t want to wander off with these things either. I don’t remember exactly when the grand slam put the Red Sox ahead of the Tigers, but I’m pretty sure it was between Kings Destroy and Pelican, and since that fits my narrative of the night better, I’m gonna go with it. Whenever it was, a cheer went up in the back of the venue and celebration — by that I mean more drinking — began. Despite a shared backline, Pelican took a while to get going. When they did, it seemed like the place was pretty well sauced. Not a complaint.
Also jammed. I old-man reminisced about seeing Pelican at the Knitting Factory in Manhattan nearly a decade ago (another dude up front said he’d been there as well, which was cool), but when I turned around, the room was heads the whole way back. Sure enough, a sold out show. The Chicago four-piece of guitarists Trevor de Brauw and Dallas Thomas, bassist Bryan Herweg and drummer Larry Herweg got underway with “The Creeper” from 2009′s What We all Come to Need (review here), but it was the one-two-three of “Deny the Absolute,” “The Tundra” and “Immutable Dusk” from Forever Becoming that hooked the crowd, myself included, with a tonally rich and unrepentantly heavy thrust that seemed to revel in its own dynamic of chugging, locked-in nod and periods of pastoral ambience. Though it’s a “duh” kind of thing to say for a band who’s been around for roughly 13 years, they were noteworthy in how tight they were, and though de Brauw got on a mic a couple times to thank the crowd for coming out and near the near the end of the set said it meant a lot to the band to sell out the place after not coming to town for so long, most of their time on stage was an undulating sea of open-feeling grooves.
Whatever else you can say about Pelican, they’ve never stopped doing things on their own terms — remember that time they found a singer and became the biggest band in the world? Nope, you don’t — so the loyalty engendered in their listeners makes sense, and justify by continuing to develop their approach over the years. One can trace their sound through the bevvy of splits and EPs and use their five full-lengths to date as a landmark, but live, it becomes more about the experience of where they are than how they got there. They dipped back to 2007′s City of Echoes to close out with “Dead between the Walls,” but that was as far back as they went. Last year’s Ataraxia/Taraxis EP (review here) was represented with “Lathe Biosas” and “Parasite Colony,” which like the three from Forever Becoming, appeared in succession as though to demonstrate that the flow of Pelican records is intended to mirror that of the live show and vice versa, and returning to the new album, “The Cliff” rested comfortably on Bryan‘s bassline as the airier guitars moved easily into the emergent churn of “Strung up from the Sky.”
By then, if you weren’t lost in it, you probably had called it a night already. I watched the end of Pelican‘s set further back, on the edge of the crowd swell, and found it no less immersive than it had been in front of the stage. “Strung up from the Sky” gave way to the galloping “Dead between the Walls,” breaking to atmospherics before building to a satisfying final churn and crashing noisy into its final moments. There was a requisite snap back to reality after the amps got shut off, and I watched as the crowd streamed out of the Great Scott and into the vomit-strewn baseball-loving Saturday night Allston street that awaited, got on line to pick up a CD of Forever Becoming – also buying a double of 2009′s Ephemeral EP, the title-track of which they’d played — and then likewise headed out.
Extra thanks to The Patient Mrs., Jaime Traba, Steve Murphy, Trevor de Brauw, and you for reading. This one was a special kind of night. Like I said, it was dark, but there are a few more pics after the jump.