Monday, May 27, 2013

Concert Review: The Dillinger Escape Plan @ Reggie's Rock Club - 05.08.13

When somebody begins to talk to me about how amazingly intense whomever was at last nights concert, or how so-and-so absolutely “destroyed” said venue and it was the best show they’d ever seen, I usually tend to shine them off because they’ve never seen the Dillinger Escape Plan live. If they had they wouldn’t be talking such nonsense. Because that’s the problem with a Dillinger Escape Plan show, they set the bar so goddamn high that it sucks the energy out of every other band you saw and will ever see that you thought/would think was awesome. I’ve been out and about checking out live rock and metal shows and what-have-you since 1991. Though I’ve been listening to them since 1999, I’ve only seen Dillinger 5 times in that tenure – it should have been a lot more but for awhile there I was starting to think greater powers that be were preventing me from immersing myself in such chaos. Shows were canceled, family members died, trucks jack-knifed on highways blocking all four lanes of traffic, etc.  Of all the concerts I’ve been to and all the bands I’ve seen, four of the top 5 all-time best are occupied by The Dillinger Escape Plan, the show last night at Reggie’s Rock Club in Chicago lands at #1. I know the math doesn’t add up – chill out…The only show to not make the list was when I saw them open for Deftones at the Riviera Theatre. Though still an amazing performance, the bands intensity was stifled from the large size of the venue as well as a lackluster crowd of confused looks who didn’t know what to make of them. Watching TDEP perform anywhere that puts the stage further than an arms reach away from their audience is like watching sharks try to have a feeding frenzy in the woods – still amazing to see, but just seems a bit unnatural.  Later on that evening they shot across town over to the Bottom Lounge to do a full set that would become legendary amongst fans of the band as well as the band themselves. There’s even a Facebook page specifically dedicated to it, seriously. I fucking stuck around to watch the fucking Deftones play because I really fucking like the Deftones and never fucking saw them before and fucking missed it. Fuck.
I listen to music for the emotion behind it or the emotion it stirs. As a fan of music I’m generally in the minority as I believe the live show should represent the songs on the record, only played – well, live. Others believe, that a studio recording should capture  what a live song sounds like only played in the studio. You follow? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Being able to convey the emotion that fuels a band’s sound live is something that’s very important to me in a performance. Arguably, anger and/or aggressiveness, translates a whole lot easier than other states of the human emotional spectrum, and can also be triggered a whole lot easier when you believe with conviction in what you’re performing night after night. Nobody does this better than The Dillinger Escape Plan, and if they did you’d have heard about it. Dillinger thrives on playing in small places and they know it. With each release and each subsequent touring cycle the band is naturally inching it’s way up the popularity platform. They’ve played the Conan O’Brien Show, got invited to The Revolver Golden Gods gig, are headlining this years Summer Slaughter tour, and lead singer Greg Puciato was recently placed number one on a list of top 25 current metal frontmen. Last nights show was sold out, and both of last years shows at Reggie’s were sold out. At current status they could easily play a place like The Metro but still stick to the smaller joints because they get off on their own intensity as much as their fans do. You’ve gotta love a band that’s at where they’re at and still take the time to play an occasional basement show. Sure I’m a fan of Dillinger, but 50% of that reason (maybe 43% ha!) is because of their live show. It’s become what they’re known for and rightfully so. Lately it seems like half the crowd at these shows are fans and the other half were either dragged their by their friend to see the spectacle or were simply curious about what the word-of-mouth-big-deal was, both halves can usually be seen walking out of the show with mouths gaped open.
Reggie’s Rock Club is a small venue with a floor and a bit of balcony space. On either side of the stage about 15 feet up are VIP booths with chain-link fence running across them. The only thing between the floor crowd and the band is a welded pipe bar that runs across the length of the stage. Last night’s security planted himself at stage-right and simply bounced people back who were close to falling onstage. Drink every time I say stage. Backed with spastic strobes, and launching themselves off of steel box ramps planted strategically around the stage, the band kicked things off with the song “Prancer”, a track from the new album “One Of Us Is The Killer” that gets released next week. In all of about one note the air gets sucked out of the room and the crowed gets vacuum sealed against the stage, packed like pissed off sardines fighting off the urge to traumatically asphyxiate. “Farewell Mona Lisa” followed allowing for only a moments breath during the opening riff before the purge continued. “Sugar Coated Sour” started just like this, and “Room Full Of Eyes” only loosened it’s grip half-way through so bassist Liam Wilson could work out his continuous bass pedal issues before the song breaks down into total sonic catharsis.
By the time they finished blazing through the song "Milk Lizard", it wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to say the band was spending more time in the audience than they were on the actual stage. Halfway through "Sunshine The Werewolf", during the dark little jazzy interlude - Puciato acknowledged how stubborn security was being, "They won't let you up here, I'll just come down there". He then proceeded to part the crowd like Moses did the Red Sea, and gallop to the middle of the pit where he bellowed out the leviathan of an ending to that song before the audience picked him up and spat him back onto the stage. "Calculating Infinity" was a surprising little highlight for me, an instrumental number from the group's debut that on this evening acted like an almost halftime show, instead of focusing on the audience for a song they played a bit off of each other in a sort of technical-punk-thrash jam, bassist Liam Wilson seemed absolutely absorbed with the music, doing his demented little crab bounce to the off-kilter beat. The energy was symbiotic that evening, and the band seemed to be having a genuine blast, smiles on their faces as they dove into the crowd, laughing and vibing off of each other. What has become the band's signature closer, '43% Burnt', took whatever fun was being had and turned it into one last violent burst. While the audience were mustering up the last remaining fumes in the tank, Puciato scaled across the chainlink fence at the top of the aforemetioned VIP section and from there gibboned his way onto one of the venue's main speaker systems that was suspended from the ceiling. He then crawled across an I-beam and dropped into the crowd, all the while the stomp continued on stage without missing a beat, and then they were through - no bullshit chanting and cheering to get an encore, no fucking with the audience, no time off for a breather. The Dillinger Escape Plan encapsulate a modern day punk rock energy from a band flirting with mainstream success in the Heavy Metal genre, and they don't let that balance on the cusp push them into losing the vision of who they are or the force their band has become. They've never lost sight of the intimate energy that they create through their music and especially through their live show that's both brought them to where they are and at the same time kept them one of the best kept secrets in extreme music. Here's to hoping no necks get broken in at least the next 20 years.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Ahhhh, Pig Killer!!!!" Fanning The Flames That Pig Destroyer's 'Book Burner' Has Caused.

Pig Destroyer has returned! Like heroes triumphant from battle they've come back to the streets from a long hiatus, the masses of Grind fans aligned on either side of the homecoming parade waving enthusiastically and throwing handfuls of confetti! But what's this? The crowd disperses? Our bewildered heroes twist their heads in confusion from atop their float as the cheers dissipate and the buckets of rice and confetti are left half-spilled and rolling in the curb. There are doubters amongst us, with great big megaphones telling you that they aren't the heroes you've thought them to be. They carry big colorful signs that say that the war has changed them, that there are bigger heroes a block over with bigger floats who have fought in better battles. I'm sorry you feel that way.
I know this bunch of bullshit is coming at you a bit after the fact, and it's all been a bucket of chum I've laid out in other various comments boxes along the way, but bare with me please - I'd be remiss if I didn't say it all in one place on my own page. I was actually surprised to see the bulk of negative reactions to the new Pig Destroyer album 'Book Burner' in the weeks/months following it's release. More so because they were all coming from individual fans of the grindcore genre, putting it out there in blogs and Youtube videos and individual CD reviews on sites selling the album. Major magazines and websites seemed to praise the record for the most part - and while I do take a little bit of stock in that I'm alot more interested to hear what the grunts on the frontline have to say about it. After all, they don't have to cater to and/or worry about bad-mouthing the same band that they have coming in for an interview next week or put on the cover of the latest issue.
In hindsight however, I'm glad to see a lack of blind love for a band as highly respected and heavy hitting as Pig Destroyer are in their genre - kudos to not just liking the album because of who it came from and lying to yourself, there's too much of that in the art world, and as a result too many artists resting on their laurels. Which is NOT, mind you, what I think Pig Destroyer did on 'Book Burner'. I understand that there is the potential to not like alot of things on this album, and I'm not trying to change your mind - just hoping to throw another perspective out there I guess. Here are a few of the universal negatives that I've picked up on from the bulk of complaints: 1) (the big one) The production: It sounds polished, this album comes off cleaner than a nun's cooch. I think a big part of that is the drum sound. Mind you this was the first album they did in Hull's new studio - and the drums were already programmed for each song prior to Adam Jarvis even joining the ranks. From my understanding he just played over the already programmed drums to the Tee (T?), not leaving room for freestyle rolls and fills, and who's going to walk into their first Pig Destroyer rehearsal and tell Hull "fuck off I'm doing it my way"? - maybe Dave Witte. That's what happens when you write an album without a drummer. While  triggers potentially add to the problem, the whole thing comes off (in comparison to Brian Harvey's style) as sounding a bit mechanical and lifeless. The drums are in your face, and still sound programmed - as opposed to the organic almost analog feel to them on previous records. When Richard Johnson or Kat Katz step in as guest vocalists this album sounds like Agoraphobic Nosebleed's 'Agorapocolypse', because basically - well, it is Agoraphobic Nosebleed - especially considering the live drums on 'Book Burner' sound exactly like the programmed ones on 'Agorapocolypse'. It makes me wish that ANB would go back to their PCP-tinged 5000 bpm blur grind and not slow things down and suckle from the potential creative teet of future Pig Destroyer albums - but that's just being selfish.
This was also the first time that the guitars weren't screwed with. In a recent interview Hull revealed that on previous albums the guitar tone was digitally dropped an octave or two in the final mix, to help give it a bit of a bottom end bass tone. Anybody whose done any kind of recording can tell you that this causes the overall tone of the guitar on the recording to sound a bit more muddy and muffled. The end result worked well for Pig Destroyer on past records because it only adds to the suffocating atmosphere of sounds and blends in with the ambient noises creeping around beneath the layers of sonic cacaphony. In my opinion the best example of this is on the Terrifyer album: that lower tone causes the guitar to digitally bleed into the other instruments, and on that album particularly (probably because of the riffs its married to) it's dizzying and violent, which is what that record is all about. 'Book Burner' is so much clearer and less feedback laden because it's untampered with and what you get at face value, and what you get at face value probably put through more emphasis on the audio interface and not the amp. It's fuckin' crispy. With all this clarity and in-your-faceness I will admit I was hoping to hear a bit more of Blake Harrison's noise production in the mix, but it's nowhere near the head of the twister as much as everything else is when it's all churning at once. For me the production is fine, and I think for the band it's fine. If anything I'd like to think Hull is taking the negative feedback about it as a big ol' handjob to the work he did creating his own studio from the bottom up, it could be quite the compliment to an audiogeek who enjoys piecing together 5.0 surround sound ambient audio landscapes in his off/off/off/off time. I think people may be a bit less peeved about the overall sound of the record if it had a bit less negative space throughout it, space that could be easily filled by some creepy undertones from Harrison when the music stops and it's just hull introducing another riff before it all starts up again. And if you don't think so then simply think of it like this: For as narrow a genre as grindcore is, Pig Destroyer have done a tremendous job of not putting out the same record twice. 30 Counts Of Battery is a compilation piece plain and simple, you could easily argue it's value in a discography. That puts Prowler In The Yard as their blueprint album, Terrifyer as their artsy album, Phantom Limb as their thrash album, and Book Burner is simply their clean album, from there you've just got to deal with it... Wait, there's more:

Second biggest complaint: Both the lyrics and delivery from JR Hayes. People seemed a bit disappointed with both. I admit there is a bit of a lack of desperation in his vocals on this album, and instead of sounding like a jaded psychopath wrestling with his own potential lack of morality and guilt, he comes off a bit more monochromed as a snarling dog throughout all 19 tracks. Well, delivery mirrors content - and lyrically this album is radically different than past ventures. It's less introverted and poetic and more graphic and surfaced. Artists don't want to do the same thing over and over again, and real artists won't if they aren't convicted to what they're writing. It's been 5 years since PD put out an album, probably damn near 15 since their inception. Nobody should be trying to passionately deliver from a place that they're not living in anymore. It's an evolution of content and I for one welcome it. If you've been listening to the band for that long then whether you know it or not you are becoming numb to the previous aesthetic his lyrics have been trademarked as. It's not shocking anymore to hear about his character strangling a woman and then masturbating in her closet, no matter how poetic and subjective he makes it sound. This record is a huge step away from previous ones along those lines, it's a skeleton crew of short stories opposed to another sonic novel of that blurred line between love and justifiable homicide. Sure he dabbles in familair waters with songs like 'Boston Strangler' and 'Dirty Knife', but I honestly wonder if those were written partly to bate the appetites of Pig Destroyer fans and not leave them feeling ostricized by what has become such a critical component of the songs and a watermark for the band that allows them to rise above others in the genre either still waxing about how shitty politics are or those those that simply just use a medical dictionary as their thesaurus. I'm glad the palette is expanding - drug use, religious conformity, war, and a big violent drunk guy getting into a fight... The crayons are coloring outside of the lines and it leaves tons of potential for future musings.
3.) An overall lack of signature riffs/hooks. I don't know what to throw your way on this one. Either you dig what's there or you don't. I hear the underlying Slayer worship that's always occasionally reared it's head in past albums in songs like 'Permanent Funeral'. I hear the aforementioned dizzying violence in 'Iron Drunk' and 'Valley Of The Geysers', and even the balls out blur ala the beginning of 'Heathen Temple' in 'The Bug'. It's all there for me. In my opinion this record appropriately falls into the fifth album template of the sound of their entire career congealed into one album, and it works. 'Sis' sounds like a cut that could have been pulled from the era of '30 Counts Of Battery' as much as 'The Baltimore Strangler' could've easily slid in anywhere on 'Phantom Limb'. A sort of greatest hits album without it actually being a greatest hits album.
Here's what I think, the reason it would seem alot of folks are disappointed with this disc is because A: It's been a long time coming, and despite being "open minded" or self-proclaimed music snobs, people built this album up whether they realized it or not. B: This band has made a serious mark in the scene - and everyone is going to compare every release after 2001 to 'Prowler In the Yard', and that's damn unfortunate, because if this were their first album these people would be putting it on a pedestal. C: Because they've made such a mark in the scene they suffer from the countless legions of mediocre bands trying to sound like them severely watering down the genre. Step away from it for five years and some change and all of a sudden you find yourself facing a decision musically: Either just get in there and do what it is you do best, hoping it will still stand above the second generation sound you've helped inspire, or possibly step out of your comfort zone and do something different in an effort to raise the bar yet again, but with that risk alienating your fans. I'm glad they chose the former, at least this time around. I think with what they went through we're all lucky to even have a new Pig Destroyer record, and all really lucky they didn't continue down the path of critic's boners for 'Phantom Limb' and lean even more heavily on boring thrash stylings. They did what they needed to do and made an all encompassing album of their sound just to get their feet back on the ground. At the risk of sounding like a COMPLETE asshole, I think we all need to comb thru our Grind collections at home and throw away anything that isn't elite. I'd love to litter this page with shit-tons of under-the-radar type groups, but the fact of the matter is, when I try to do that and listen to alot of this kind of music, it takes away from the volatility of the stuff that I know is already really good in the grindcore field, and recognized as such with good reason. To put it simply, a genre with this narrow of boundaries shouldn't be diluted with second rate garbage, listening to a band like Noisear to tame that Discordance Axis fix is the same as listening to Godsmack for the nostalgia of Alice In Chains. Throw that shit away and only fix when it's quality shit to fix with, in my ridiculous opinion you'll spot and appreciate the good stuff easier that way.
Book Burner is another appropriate chapter in the discography - I enjoy it. It's arguably the angriest of their records and thematically the most different. I can totally comprehend the naysayers and their arguments, I get it and I hear it - I'm not arguing that. I also understand that there are bands you want to see change and evolve and bands you don't. Pig Destroyer has flaunted all kinds of abilities in their albums and more-so their one off's like 'Natasha' and the 'Mass & Volume' EP. I'd love to see these guys get to a point in their career where they could release a noise album and have it be understood and accepted as a Pig Destroyer album. They're too good at getting under the skin to base their existence on riffs, speed, and shocking dialogue. I'd love to see what extremes they can twist the dark side of the human experience into through other channels of sound and hope they explore those dimensions. I'd love this band - and more importantly this band's fans - to embrace the idea of being able to do whatever they want and trust that they will deliver with tapping into a new perspective of something primal someday. Because extreme music can punish and heal no matter what instrument it comes from at any bpm. Yeah, and maybe there's a little bit of that blind love there too.