It’s unclear if Steve Shelley saw the yawn.
About thirty feet from the stage, an audience member couldn’t help themselves during the middle of Disappears’ Friday night performance at Lincoln Hall. It came during a rare moment of eye contact from the man responsible for propelling Sonic Youth’s unholy noise; for the remaining 59 minutes and 45 seconds, he was focused on making sure each audience member felt his kick drum in their chest while Disappears conducted an eardrum-rattling séance. That yawn had nothing to do with the performance; on the contrary, the Chicago snake charmers got hips and heads moving during a no-frills set more energetic than the band’s AV Fest performance last summer. It was unfortunately a midnight start time that wore on the more lethargic section of the crowd.
Fellow Kranky act Implodes didn’t have that challenge but brought the visual stimulation nonetheless. Their brand of woozy acid-drone was accompanied by horror movie visuals—throat slitting, head cutting, and scenes of general fright were strung out in slow motion for maximum discomfort. Many shows can make a crowd laugh, swoon or cry; few truly unsettle. You could see people startle when someone brushed past them at a suspenseful moment in the film. The crowd laughed when an underwear-clad actress fell victim to an axe in the face after a song’s conclusion. Despite drawing clear reactions of disgust, it turned the venue into a haunted house, the laughter providing a sense of relief that it’s only make-believe.
Lotus Plaza is a band that seems to specialize in its own brand of imagination—the group’s songs are dreamy mood pieces that might get loud but never as punishingly harsh in a live setting as singer Lockett Pundt’s other band, Deerhunter. Though they’ve nailed a particularly disengaged brand of cool in their stage presence, Lotus Plaza’s songwriting has more potential than power.
The four members of Disappears emerged from the purple curtain at midnight for the first show of the tour. While the band’s latest album, Pre Language, is its most accessible yet, the hypnotic kraut-gaze of songs like “Brother Joliene” still felt unrelenting. “Replicate,” the set’s second song and Pre Language’s first, felt like a warm up for a night that tested the audience’s physical commitment to music.
Bassist Damon Carruesco pivoted tightly on occasion, but for the most part kept his thousand-yard stare locked on the imaginary line from the neck of his guitar to the fingers of vocalist Brian Case. With his curly hair and ragged facial features, Case looked like Lou Reed’s punk rock younger brother (appropriate for a concert showcasing a record label that, for all practical purposes, wouldn’t exist without The Velvet Underground). Each time he approached the microphone, he did it with such purpose and force that you have to wonder if the concise calls-to-arms in his lyrics don’t have a hidden meaning. Chances are they do, given this is a band even whose fastest song slows the mind to a drift.
Taking the phrase “less talk, more action” to heart, Disappears showed atmosphere and muscle aren’t mutually exclusive while keeping the banter to a brief “thanks guys” near the end. Only an enthusiastic “Chicago in the house, motherfucker!” broke the wall between fan and artist, as even the stoic Carruesco broke a smile. That’s not to say Disappears didn’t work the crowd—even the most reserved audience member seemed to have a bobblehead on their shoulders if they weren’t experiencing a full-body exorcism.
By the time the show ended at 1:00 a.m., the crowd’s second wind allowed it to give Disappears its deserved applause. “Why bother, it’s been done,” Case drawled on “Replicate.” Their groove might be familiar to fans of Shelley’s first band and their primary influence (VU), but that’s nothing to yawn about.