Stephen Lawrie, the sole original member in this touring lineup, kneeled and writhed on the stage screaming, a vessel pumping blood to his swiftly purple-turning face ready to pop at any second. One of the guitarists climbed off the stage and attacked his axe in the middle of the crowd with such ferocity that at least one string broke. The sound was a blistering sonic skull fuck. And that was just the first song.
The Telescopes had returned stateside on this warm Wednesday night in early May, playing in the intimate black box known as Chicago’s Subterranean. The UK quintet performed in the form of a careening caterwaul, creating sound machine that saw the line between being “in control” and “out of control” and went right through that line like a giant pair of scissors at a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Next it was Lawrie’s turn to take a tour of the front of the crowd, not letting a little thing like his microphone chord being wrapped around the stand getting in the way of dragging it around with him where ever he lurched. And by the time he decided to take said guitarist with him on one such trip, they had successfully wrapped one of the monitors up in their respective cords (and chords), and they just brought the monitor down with them off the stage. Whether the crowd was seasoned or just wise beyond their years was unclear, but luckily no one was injured in this particular melee.
By the end of the show, pretty much everyone in the band was on their knees or on the floor of the stage, except for the drummer, who successfully (for the most part) kept everything together, but it must not have been easy. Especially when the lead singer ostensibly left the stage to get a drink (as if he hadn’t already had enough) and came back, seemingly just having washed his hands.
Onstage antics aside, there was a bucket of bloody music poured out on this stage.
Imagine the dirge-like chord that pummels through The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Reverence” performed by NYC trio A Place To Bury Strangers. Then imagine Band of Susans meets …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead. Imagine The Velvet Underground meets Sonic Youth. Tonight they were all about nursing their wounding No Wave drone.
Clearly, The Telescopes have their sights trained not on noise pop, but on noise itself. There was some “singing” to be sure, and some melodies interspersed throughout, but the band is more about finding the music inside of the drone they create, the intimate tribal rhythms and interlocking guitar parts created by the three guitarists, none of whom perform “solos” in any traditional sense of the word, unless you can define a solo in the form of feedback, and then there were plenty.
In fact, the “encore” tonight consisted of one of the guitarists returning to the stage briefly to manipulate his many pedals and alter the sound and texture of the feedback created upon the band’s departure. The Telescopes were uncompromising in their brutality and the sheer aggression they unleashed upon their instruments. This wasn’t death metal by any means, but they found the beauty of tonight’s annihilation and nursed their wounds for all it was worth. The few in the crowd that lasted to the bitter end were barely left standing themselves.
Before The Telescopes, local shoegaze disciples Airiel packed in a stalwart following, and in a performance timed to celebrate the launch of their new EP Kid Games (Shelflife Records), they created a sound reminiscent of Chapterhouse, with a propulsive backbeat and a guitar sound drawn from the Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) songbook. No amount of shoegazing layers can disguise bad songs, and thankfully, Airiel didn’t play any.