On the back Dante’s, you will see in bright yellow letters the phrase: “KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD”. On any given night, that is what the establishment does. With it’s mix of circus acts, tribute bands and performers of the more carnal variety next door all idling under the marquee, it can seem like a place you miss among the other downtown clubs. But if you were to guess at what type of categorically “weird” band would be lurking inside its red and black interior, it would indeed resemble the Providence, Rhode Island band Lightning Bolt.
The two-piece consists of drummer Brian Chippendale and bassist Brian Gibson. Lightning Bolt play shows for people who are privy to a few ground rules before the performance takes place. The first one being that the two can at any time play on the floor of the venue, making it a herculean task for the sound guy but nonetheless a very memorable show. The second being that Murphy’s Law is part of the fun. Objects will fly through the crowd. Drum equipment will shatter and ears may even bleed from the sheer volume.
Last Wednesday, the near capacity crowd at Dante’s seemed to convey how Portland’s underground music community is not only aware of these parameters for Lightning Bolt shows, they are delighted by them.
Consumer, a solo hardcore electronic artist who, judging by his name, is either trying to make a political statement about capitalism or wants to never be found on Google opened. He played an abbreviated five to ten minute set of button and foot pad mashing that seemed more likely to execute a combo move in Street Fighter than make the abrasive sounds coming across the PA. There’s no telling If this guy plundered an Otto Von Schirach sound library to make his tracks. He would definitely appeal to fans of Miss Violetta Beauregarde or early Locust, a fitting primer for the rest of the night. He easily left us wanting more.
Co-headlining this tour and also signed to Thrill Jockey is Liturgy, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. Liturgy’s previous albums lean towards nuanced black metal, but
their most recent album The Ark Work has them applying stylistic touches that may never conjure up visuals of dudes in corpse paint.
Although just as loud as their label mates Lightning Bolt, Liturgy are less about noise and more about tight, elongated riffage and breaks of syncopation that fall on you like thunderous horns. Their level of technical playing became apparent even before the band started, as lead guitarist Bernard Gann came out with a headless guitar and vocalist Hunter-Hunt Hendrix had an abundance of electronic samples illuminating from his pedal board.
Vocally, the lyrics of Hendrix can seem swallowed up in the overall sound of urgency, but in actuality they pleasantly become a lower element of the band’s atmospherics. People don’t necessarily go to black metal shows for easily decipherable lyrics, and the crowd there for Lightning Bolt was no exception. The audience was fairly moved to action for the later songs like the chilling “Follow”. It began with a sampling of twinkling bells that were lashed melodically to the songs blisteringly fast guitars. Likewise, the intro “Quetzalcoatl” was so fast that it began with a junky click track of electronic bass that unfolded into a series of harrowing crescendos.
The drummer of Lightning Bolt, Brian Chippendale, took the stage wearing a scabby mask that houses his vocal implements while playing. With the stigma of face-paint or mask wearing Nu-metal bands somewhat passed, this left Chippendale unfearful of faulty comparisons and ready to create his own almost nightmarish intensity behind the kit. Some may say the mask defines him. Really, it’s the brevity of his arsenal that is commendable, not just his costume. Chippendale plays with no high-hat and only two cymbals, with his left foot used to control the effect pedal on his voice. This making his zany shouts fly at you like scrawling credits in the opening of some hyper-dystopian film.
Bassist Brian Gibson matched Chippendale in the resourcefulness he displayed while on bass, from fuzzed out caverns of depth, to laser blasts, to piercings dentist drills. This dude had a bottomless bag of jolting sounds to draw from. Still, his chemistry with Chippendale remained stable throughout as his eyes were locked on Chippendale’s every manic fill and ghost note. From a sight reading standpoint, this can be like watching a cartoon cloud of smoke with so many belaboring arms swinging off it in a frenetic pace. Gibson always nails it.
“The Metal East” got the set started with Chippendale’s choppy gallop of drums. Before the encore, Chippendale pushed his monitor to the front of the stage and stacked his floor tom right on it. “This is a test of delicate sensibilities,” he said as he dared the crowd to slam into each other enough that it would topple his pile of gear. He returned to the kit to play a song without vocals and pulled off the loudest, most cutting blast beat of the night before motioning to the crowd and walking offstage.
Once again, the city was safe for weird fans, with Lightning Bolt being their champion of the people.