Spaceland becomes A Place To Bury Strangers (6/26)

Silver Lake venue Spaceland is small. If you wonder how small, its capacity is only 260. And though it is awesome when a band I like plays this small place, it generally keeps me from seeing many shows there because it is just not big enough to accommodate most established bands. So when I heard A Place To Bury Strangers was playing there, I was worried that this band had fallen off or something, just because I figured they could play a venue three times bigger. Regardless of why they chose Spaceland as the site for their last date of a mini-tour of the West Coast with Useless Keys and Light Pollution, they left the stage with two things for certain: 1. The Silver Lake hip-snobs had just seen what might be the best triple-bill of the year and 2. APTBS were packing light for their trip back to New York.

The night proved exciting in that it was a rare guitar driven event. Guitar rock will always thrive, but most of it is relegated to genre bands, music that is easily described and identified. Much of the more creative musicians seem to be moving away from guitar driven tunes, but all three groups on the bill proved that interesting things can still happen in traditional forms. Useless Keys, a local four-piece, boasts a singer that frequently reminds of Spencer Krug, but over a dark and muscular sound. It’s not goth, or hard rock or metal, it’s just guitar music that doesn’t have to be classified. And it’s good.

Had I listened to the radio much in the last year, I would probably know that Useless Keys has gotten some radio play from local station KROQ as well as a few other major market rock radio stations. They have only an EP currently for sale, but their live show has already earned them a Monday Night Residency at the Echo and headlining shows at Spaceland (see! I told you this lineup was playing the wrong sized venue). But most interestingly, a little research into this band uncovered a rather awesome blog post about Stephen Hawking’s concern about aliens that has nothing to do with anything and an interview that seems more like a band and reporter talking at a party, only via instant messenger. Their perception of their tunes is correct; they are a rock ‘n’ roll band, very much seeming like the product of people with varying tastes. The melodic nature of the tunes, particularly “White Noise”,  makes it accessible and radio-ready. Don’t be surprised to be sick of them in the next couple years.

The other two bands do not have this problem of possible impending fame. Both are clearly better bands than Useless Keys, but both play music that doesn’t appeal to people in 10 seconds, wouldn’t make someone buy an iPod, and can’t be danced to. Light Pollution is a Chicago band, so I imagine some of our other writers here at CoS have a decent amount on insight to give on their finer points. This band was energetic and absolutely captivating. Singer James Cicero has a voice that comes across like Jeff Mangum or The Royal Alberta Advantage, and with similar enthusiasm. But the music is psychedelic, almost shoegazey moments with Arcade Fire-eque anthems. I was absolutely sold on the passion they brought, with excellent percussion work that both held the songs together and rose above at times to reveal a rare drummer stand-0ut in Matt Evert. Their debut LP came out this month, and I am saving pennies to get it this week, selling blood to check them out again next time they are in town, and maybe even getting a t-shirt with my 2010 tax return.

And then A Place to Bury Strangers.

Now, I consider this my first experience with the band, though I did check out a good portion of their set at the 2009 Coachella Festival in which the band played to 40 or 50 strays who, like me, have something against Paul McCartney. So, I don’t really know if it is a normal thing for them to go absolutely ape-shit crazy at the end of their set or if this was a end-of-tour, travel-light kind of thing. This finale of reversing the strobes, destroying nearly every piece of equipment that they had (Singer/guitarist Oliver Ackermann is known for using custom pedals, and he did remove some from his set-up prior to the destruction) while producing an ear-bleed inducing barrage of feedback and noise did make the choice of Spaceland a little more clear. Surely the venue either is more relaxed than some of the larger clubs or a place the band wouldn’t mind not being invited back to.

As for what they played, I couldn’t really care. It’s not that the music wasn’t enjoyable (“Ego Death” was a standout), but the sound setup (at least up front) was configured with vocals and guitar coming through much louder to the left and the bass coming through to the right. I was far right and the majority of what I heard was bass and drums. And it’s not like Ackermann is a master of annunciation. What struck me as the most strange was how good humored the band appeared during setup, joking with some photographers while putting up the setlist and visibly smiling quite often. But then the joke was on us. When the lights dimmed, the smoke machines poured thick, moist clouds right at the photo group and quickly filled the room. This would happen every five minutes or so for the entire show.

The band broke out some new material, but it wasn’t a departure in any way from what they are known for and fit in the set seamlessly. And sure, there was intensity, but there was a precise moment that a switch flipped in the singer and the band dutifully followed suit. Ackermann stood atop a monitor in the center of the stage and for a solid minute and scanned the room from right to left and back again. It was creepy as hell. He looked like he pitied the audience, like we were disgusting and deserved to be punished. And then, we were.

Since I have been covering shows, I often stand near the stage, feeling like there is some invisible barrier protecting me, like the fences at a zoo. But that wall disappeared during “Ocean”. I wasn’t nervous about my camera or getting booze spilled on me. I was concerned for my safety and health. I didn’t know if this was a controlled destruction or if they were going farther than some guitar tosses and lighting changes. When the amps started flying and bouncing around the stage, well, I took a step back. I would be seriously pissed if I took an amp to the face. I’m the type of guy who protects my hearing at shows, but never did I consider that a helmet might be necessary for this one. Strobe lights were flipped around, creating unforeseen conditions where the observer felt nauseous and entranced at the same time. A fan ran on stage and grabbed the setlist, with no reaction from the band because they were clearly possessed with a darkness that thirsted for noise. So yeah, in other words, it kicked fucking ass.

After the New York trio left the stage, people gathered around and took pictures, Spaceland now more of a crime scene then a venue. But those of us that had seen all three bands were left to ponder the real crime in this situation: that rock and roll of traditional, guitar-driven roots is so rare to find in this high of quality. All three bands showed there is plenty of noise to still be made in that format, and hopefully some more can emerge to build a new scene with the indie philosophy mixed with the classic rock muscularity. And wherever that new scene is built, A Place To Bury Strangers can show up and tear it all down.

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