Lightning Bolt (All Photos by Daniel Ahrendt)
As hectic as any major music festival feels, being sandwiched between all those fans at the main stage is only a quarter as hectic as being in a basement with Lightning Bolt. Healthy Times Fun Club isn’t tiny, but two hundred plus kids surging forward like their lives depend on it toward one of the loudest noise rock duos ever tends to shrink spatial perceptions. Shrink they did, accompanied by enough sweat and sound for your average intergalactic war.
Brian Chippendale (drums, vocals) and Brian Gibson have played as Lightning Bolt since 1994. Then a three piece with Hisham Bharoocha on guitar, the group met at Rhode Island School of Design. Bharoocha left in 1996 and soon became a member of fellow art school band Black Dice. Ever since, Chippendale and Gibson have been rupturing eardrums and minds with the drum and bass noise rock that has made them modern American legends. It may seem odd to characterize two guys from Rhode Island that travel around in a camper to perform as spastically as they do as legendary, but Lightning Bolt is quite the institution. With five LPs, the most recent being 2009’s Earthly Delights, all on Load records featuring the same two musicians for over fifteen years, they’ve never waned in popularity. Every recorded show describes in words and pictures a room flooded with youthful chaos. This one was no different.
As you can see from the above image, Gibson has quite a bit of amplification. Another stack to the right supplied the reverb swathed sound for Chippendale’s mic, infamously strapped into his multicolored rag mask. As soon as they started, I was, along with the rest of the front, in danger of falling onto their equipment. The push never subsided either, forcing a few of us to find shelter behind Gibson and his amps. This was a poor decision what with all the electrical wiring. Due to the lack of protection for said wires weaving around the room, they were stepped on often, leading to at least two forced breaks where both musicians zeroed in on what came unplugged.
Regardless of the technical difficulties, Lightning Bolt charged through tunes from their past three albums, most memorably “Dead Cowboy” from their 2005 release Hypermagic Mountain. The amount of practicing that led to such extroverted ease in performing at such high energy with that many harmonic and rhythmic changes could seem extreme. However, Chippendale slams his drum set with abject playfulness and Gibson plays his bass with an overwhelming mixture of boredom and passive aggression (I suppose I would too if certain photographers and fans were constantly stepping on my power cables). They could very well just be stupidly talented musicians.
Local groove freaks Flexions and the Californian duo Planets opened the show, each serving up respective sets of largely instrumental complexity. Flexions began as a collaboration between Devin Welch, guitar player for Past Lives, and bassist Robert Stein and now incorporates Tyler Swan on all things percussive. Together they make a jolting cocktail of tropical dance rhythms and articulate punk with occasional vocal duties by Welch. While Welch doesn’t embrace the microphone too effectively, here’s hoping he continues to embrace the guitar till the world ends. His chiming cuts piece together into some of the most interesting melodies and riffs around and supported by Stein’s dubtastic bass and Swan’s tasty beats. Flexions could soon develop into a truly original project.
As for Planets, they’re pretty straightforward. Two dudes, a bass, drums, and musical interaction akin to a drunken calculus equation. The riffs are memorable while they’re being played, but then the next comes along and all of a sudden nothing else is cooler in the world. In the end, you’re left with an equal amount of sonic satisfaction and aural withdrawal symptoms.
All three bands were a delight, but Lightning Bolt was overkill in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Their ability to turn the audience into a pack of adolescent zombies after the shiniest object in the world is unrivaled. Usually being older means you just don’t enjoy certain kinds of younger music. In this case, you just might not be able to leave uninjured.