Report: Lower Dens Live in Raleigh

 

June 21 at venerable
downtown venue Kings Barcade, the Krautrock-inclined Baltimore collective
communed with Canada’s
No Joy and fellow Wham Cityite Alan Resnick for a sonic mindfuck of epic
proportions.

 

By Fred Mills

“I feel different now, than I did before,” moans/croons Jana
Hunter, in Lower Dens’ moody, epic 12-minute track “In the End is the
Beginnning,” which closes out the Baltimore-area band’s recent release Nootropics (Ribbon Music; read the BLURT
review here). That’s a pretty succinct yet appropriate way to summarize the
group’s June 21 show at Kings Barcade, for regardless of whether one chose to
pass through the venue doors in neutral, optimistic,
or decidedly altered state, by the time you staggered back onto the steaming
Raleigh pavement in the wee hours of the morning, there was no question that
things were, as the saying goes, decidedly different than they were before.

 

First up on the three-artist bill was Alan Resnick, another Baltimore denizen who is a visual/video
artist (his drolly hilarious Lower Dens “interview” film is a must-see), a Dan
Deacon collaborator and a key member of the Wham City Comedy Tour collective.
His at-times-so-cerebral-it-was-snarky standup (with projections) set may have
left a few audience members scratching their heads, particularly when he
launched into a series of spouse jokes that would make even the staunchest
“take my wife – please!” aficionados groan; but there’s something compelling,
in our über-wired contemporary milieu, about a dude who will get up onstage and
kibitz verbally with a screen image of his computer-generated avatar’s head. We
were left wondering how much of the conversation was pre-taped and how much was
the result of spontaneous Siri-like programming, but either way, I’d pay good
money to see Resnick perform again.

 

Next up was No Joy, a 3-female/1-male Canadian combo whose bloodily valentiginous racket hearkened
back to the salad days of the Creation Records roster. Speaking (writing) as
someone who witnessed firsthand Lush, Ride, Swervedriver and, yes, My Bloody
Valentine in their early ‘90s prime, I can state with authority that the
axe-wielders of No Joy just may be destined to leave their sonic – and Sonic
Youth-ian – imprint in similar fashion to their forebears. No joy, my ass; there’s
something damn inspiring – joyous, even – about watching a trifecta of gals pummeling
the shit outta their guitars. We’ve come a long way, baby, from the days when
being a female in a rock band meant demurely plucking the four strings of a
bass while her boyfriend frontman grabs all the glory. For No Joy, the vocals
were an amorphous blur, and the galeforce power of the guitars tweaked the pain
threshold enough to make you move towards the back of the room, but it was a good kinda hurt, and the perfect lead-in
to the headliners.

 

Oh yeah. With the club having filled to what appeared about ¾
capacity, the four members of Lower Dens took the stage, plugged in, and eased
into a set heavily weighted towards Nootropics material. The terms “mesmerizing,” “trancelike” and “hypnotic” naturally apply
to the studio recordings; double, triple or quadruple that quotient for the
live incarnations. Plus, with a classic Velvets/Fillmore-style light show in
play, the projections flickering and streaming across the players and their
gear in addition to the white backdrop, one couldn’t avoid the uncanny
sensation of being sucked into an immersive environment. Is everybody in? Let the
ceremony begin!

 

Guitarist/synth player/lead vocalist Hunter is ostensibly
the focus on record, but in concert she performed in purely democratic fashion
(some might say she even shunned the spotlight – not that there were ever any
spots aimed directly at the band). Indeed, the entire group seemed most
comfortable operating as a well-oiled machine wherein all the gears slotted
into one another in perfect synch. That “machine” simile isn’t a random
reference, either, for a number of songs featured a distinctive, deeply
satisfying motorik pulse, a
modern-day updating of the classic Neu!/Kraftwerk krautrock aesthetic. With the
beat so prominent in the mix, the psychedelia of Lower Dens also carried an
unmistakable whiff of techno, and while much of the audience preferred to stand
and stare and let their brains do the roaming, there were also pockets of
attendees in constant motion, slaves to the rhythm.

 

It was a richly cerebral yet decidedly physical experience. Flirting
with minimalism, yet also intent on sculpting
that aforementioned immersive experience, Lower Dens aimed at, and located, the
cortex-to-loin “G” spot. More than one patron was spotted leaving the club
after the show was over sporting huge grins and glazed-over eyes. Encore,
please.

 

[Photo Credit: by Alex
Mazer, via Lower Dens Facebook page]

 

 

 

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