Saturday, November 22, 2008

Blank Dogs, Eat Skull, and others in Manhattan, ie Show of the Year

I don't usually like to do live reviews, especially when they're over a week old really old, but his one has been dangling in my head like a loose tooth waiting to be pulled. There have been many shows of note these past few months here in New York, most of which I've passed up. But this one was not to be missed, the official coming-out party for the two-year not-so-secret Blank Dogs project, along with the second of three Eat Skull NY gigs, amongst others.

But first, the setting. Sunday nights in Chinatown are apparently the time when the community retreats to their apartments for family dinner, or something, as my search for booze, or even a decent bodega, proved futile. There was a festival being broken down in Little Italy, but no pints of whiskey to be had there either. The venue for this show was an old converted fire house on Lafayette, which is now home to a media center upstairs and a roomy, concrete garage downstairs. The bands set up in the far back of the garage, and it appeared at first that the crowd would be too thin to soften the aggressive PA as it rattled back and forth between the lacquered walls. By the end of the night a good 120 or more people filled the deafening room, but at that point the problem wasn't the space itself so much as the fact that I was without earplugs.

The Intelligence opened up to a handful of people sipping expensive Busch Lights. They were the first of two bands this night to be without the drummer they left for tour with, the other being Eat Skull, whose drummer apparently was to join the Intelligence for the remainder of their tour after this set. DRAMA. A respectful punk dude with large glasses filled in nicely, and Lars and co. performed a solid twenty minute set of mostly new(ish) material, along with a cover of the Urinals "Black Hole". Lars ended the set knees on the floor, hovering over a feedback-inducing theremin that resembled a sex toy more than your typical antennae oscillator. Next up were Little Claw, whose two drummers, two guitars/vox set-up engulfed the room. I'd heard they were a live act first and formost, that their recorded output was put to shame by their live sets, and the rumours were true. Heath and Kilynn lock in and wail away, trading strangulations with heavy, blues-based riffs, back and forth, while a pair of drum sets pound in unison like neanderthals summoning pagan gods. Somehow melodies emerged, mantras in the form of Kilynn's howl rose above the loud pulses. You can use all the cliches imaginable - primal, transcendant, gutteral, etc. - they all work in relation to the thirty minutes when Little Claw take the stage. I'm kicking myself for not attending any of their other shows that week.

Columbus' Psychedelic Horseshit countered with Sir Jared Phillips on bass, thee most competent player to hold down the position in Horseshit's three year run. Jared held his bass high up towards his chest, playing bouncy, rhythmic notes not far from the style he utilizes on the guitar in TNV. Matt set up a real live not-piece-of-shit-casio keyboard in front, which both he and Jared played while incoherently stumming other instruments. It's always a mess, especially with Matt's new sampler syncing up with Rich's carboard kit only when it was convenient. But this gang was tighter than the usual Horseshit unit, and nestled between some serious competition, Matt always seems to come through as victorious. The new songs are a tad better with the loose, five-piece Rolling Thunder-style group he conducted a few months ago in Columbus, but that sort of group doesn't lend itself to touring well these days, so a trio had to do. It was good to see Psychedelic horseshit under a little bit of pressure and time constrictions, something you never see at their gigs in Ohio. The mood brought out the best in Whitehurst and the ever-smiling Rich and their set was as good as anyone's that night.

Now onto Eat Skull, a set I anticipated for months. As I mentioned earlier, they were without their original drummer and were forced to find a stand-in each night for the rest of the tour (Jared had played the previous night in Philly). Despite this setback, the band ripped through a rather long set list of their two-minute powerhouse fun punk. They were extremely loud and cartoon-like in their expressions and playing. Eat Skull are the perfect contrast to the Midwestern stuff I've devoured for the past decade, the quintessential West-Coast band; two seperate halves, Portland's scruffy caffeinated style and California's concrete-and-acid suburbia, sewn together to make a Frankenstein for us to raise our fists to. They were great. Not quite as life-affirming as the records, but great enough. And LOUD.

But somehow not nearly as loud as Blank Dogs. By now you likely know the story, the two-year long history shrouded in afghans, indigenous masks, internet pseudonyms, evasive artwork and delayed boxed sets, all informing a secret society that wasn't so secret if you cared enough to figure it out. Mike Sniper was and is the brains behind the Blank Dogs recordings, and the night before he unceremoniously (as it should be - spectacle not needed) revealed the truth with a short set in a Brooklyn gallery. But this show was, according to Sniper, the official debut, as he and the band could tweak the technical glitches from the night before, push the volume to dangerous extremes, and perform their set with a touch more confidence. The set-up was an analog-lover's dream: outrageously large drum machine resembling something from a Fritz Lang set, vintage synths galore, warm and fuzzy sounds from towering amps. Mr. Sniper led from the middle and seemed comfortable with the sound of the band despite the obviously lack of monitor power leading them through the noise. They were great, taking pieces from the many variations of the Blank Dogs sound and maximizing it all into waves of jangly, buzzing pop.

We left directly after, needing immediate respite from the suffocating, deafening air inside. I would've liked to have a chance to party with the bands afterward, but I don't think I would've heard a word anyone said. For weeks my ears rang to remind me of the sweet, sweet damage done to them. And for the first time in my life I began to consider taking a pair of earplugs to shows. But for nights like this you just have to take everything in unadulterated. Who knows when Blank Dogs will return to the stage? I hear it could be this Spring, at SXSW and out on the left coast, but you never know. I'm just glad I got to witness the unofficial debut of one of New York's most intriguing musical figures, along with a handful of some of the best stuff going down in the nation.


Anonymous said...

a live review that actually makes me wish id been there! great. keep posting busy guy.


my word verification to post this comment is 'unislit'

Anonymous said...

start writing more english major and i'll start painting more.

Robbbie Roberts
NYC Division of Urban Wildlife

Anonymous said...

I think my ears were permanently damaged from Eat Skull's set. It was worth it tho!

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I think that it is one of the best band, I would like to be in some of the concerts of the band, their music is really good,In 2009 Blank Dogs signed with In the Red Records, releasing the full-length Under and Under on CD and double-LP.!!!22dd