New York’s A Place To Bury Strangers may have been through a lot of line-up changes since their 2007 debut, but they have maintained a consistent sonic vision nonetheless. At this point, essentially a duo comprising guitarist/vocalist Oliver Ackerman and bassist/vocalist Dion Lunadon, following the recent departure of Jay Space, they were joined onstage Wednesday night by Robi Gonzalez on drums, and pummeled the packed scenesters at Empty Bottle in Chicago into submission. Headlining a one-off gig between dates touring with The Joy Formidable, the trio’s performance provided positive proof of why they’ve come to be known as New York’s loudest band.
APTBS began their set of sonic mindfuck with a 20-minute version of “I Lived My Life To Stand In The Shadow Of Your Heart,” punctuated by screaming guitars, pounding bass, and a drum beat that threatened to cause nosebleeds. Ackerman sang “you wore me down” in an unaffected, almost emotionless laid back indie drawl, like a goth Sebadoh, and although it began as a straightforward rock track, it evolved (or devolved, depending on which side of their post-apocalyptic sonic philosophy your ears fall on) into a synesthetic display that evoked the sound of thunder and the sight of lightning.
Lunadon led a rousing (and comparatively brief) rendition of “Ocean,” the concluding cut from their eponymous 2007 debut, wherein it became clear that he was less a Roger Waters type and more a Paul Simonon (i.e., less prog rock and more punk rock).
“Ego Death” made it sound like Jane’s Addiction was addicted to downers, or at least the 45 single of their “Mountain Song” was being played at 33 1/3 speed. Not only did they evoke the ghost of fellow NYC merchants of guitar skronk, Sonic Youth, but the vocal harmonies of Ackerman and Lunadon, along with the presentation, helped it morph into a Velvet Underground style “happening” for the 21st century.
“Lost Feeling” also evoked Sonic Youth circa EVOL, perhaps a little of “Expressway to Yr Skull,” and likewise the guitarist channeled his best Thurston Moore on “Onwards To The Wall,” the title cut to their new EP on the Dead Oceans label.
At times, Ackerman played his beat-up white guitar like ringing a chiming bell, but this was not what Chuck Berry had in mind when he wrote about “Johnny B. Goode.”
After a while, APTBS seemed like one big orgasmic climax, without a lot of dynamic variation. They could coax more beauty from their compositions if they embraced the quiet moments with more contemplation and less outright silence. As it was, they dynamic trio maintained a high level of triple forte the whole night.
As if they hadn’t already obliterated the stage and the packed crowd’s eardrums enough, they returned for an epic encore of “I Lost You” that culminated in Lunadon throwing his black bass up for grabs and Ackerman leaving his already duct tape-covered guitar in a heap on the stage.
Although the powerful trio performed only nine songs, which as recorded would have lasted just over half an hour, they stretched their chaos into well over an hour of aural assault, concluding well after midnight, but leaving the crowd (evenly split between goth and indie aficionados) clamoring for more.
Locals Apteka had set the bar high for the evening when they went on about 10:30. The quartet somehow summoned the washed out guitar spirit of Swervedriver but laid down a passionate vocal approach that if not punk, was at least post-punk in attitude. Their new and older material approached the artistic greatness of …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead with sprawling mightiness, and even though “We Know Time” slowed the tempo a tad, it was no less impressive. Meanwhile, some of their other songs sounded like Cheap Trick performing a tribute to My Bloody Valentine; it shouldn’t work but somehow it did anyway. They’ve come a long way sonically and visually since they were last seen at Darkroom a few years back—truly a mind-blowing way to set the table for the sonic onslaught that was to follow. It’s no exaggeration that Apteka blew the fucking doors off for A Place To Bury Strangers; by the time they were done, a car door was literally hanging from the ceiling of The Empty Bottle.
A Place To Bury Strangers setlist:
- “I Lived My Life To Stand In The Shadow Of Your Heart”
- “Drill It Up”
- “Nothing Will Surprise Me”
- “Ego Death”
- “Lost Feeling”
- “Onwards To The Wall”
- “I Lost You”