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Monday, June 25, 2012

Live Review, 6/24/12: The Men and Wax Idols Stage a Unified Attack at Bottom of the Hill

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2012 at 8:58 AM

Wax Idols at Bottom of the Hill last night.
  • Wax Idols at Bottom of the Hill last night.

The Men

Wax Idols

Burnt Ones

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bottom of the Hill

Better than: Traveling by public transit during Pride.

Given The Men's eclectic discography -- which lurched from debut Leave Home's blown-out, chaotic screeds to Open Your Heart's visceral but understated rock, it wasn't clear which approach their live set would follow. Last night at Bottom of the Hill, The Men tastefully drew from aspects of each record. They were sonically relentless, cultivating a fierce cataclysm of guitars above devastating drums. But what really differentiates The Men from other savage rock bands is just how well they operate within the rather flat dynamic range.

The Men
  • The Men

Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Men are a Brooklyn quartet of four unassuming, slightly disheveled men. The band's seemingly redundant name could also refer to its refreshingly democratic stage presence: Each member commanded equal attention. The three wielding guitars in front traded solos and shared vocal duties, often alternating with surprising ease many times in the midst of individual songs. They careened, teetered and swayed around BOTH's large stage and then staggered back towards the microphone to yell above the barrage. Their unrelenting approach was helped largely by the drummer's primal cymbal-walloping as well. He rarely struck less than two at once, and pounded the floor tom viciously enough for it to collapse two songs into the set.

Each change or segue in The Men's set was a tumultuous event, not a cue to mellow out or return to a catchy refrain. Their songs' unique parts maintained the volume in each instance and only changed the delivery. They locked into lengthy instrumental grooves, dissolved into passages of dissonant guitar abuse, and slid back into vocals segments over drum beats that pulsated like the veins of a junkie shooting his swan song, all while engaging the energetic audience.

men2_both.jpg

Perhaps most striking about band's live set up was its lack of guitar pedals. The members' savage tones weren't contingent on gratuitous effects and pedals, but rather a familiarity with their minimal gear. Only one effect pedal adorned the entire stage, but the members could be seen carefully adjusting their vintage tube amplifiers intermittently. Such a reliance on simple gear allowed The Men to cultivate sounds that were ugly and brutal, but somehow endowed with particular warmth that coaxed listeners into the noise.

Main support for The Men last night was provided by locals Wax Idols. The group's stark, black-clad visual aesthetic on stage is actually misleading. Judging by their appearance last night, one might expect turgid death-rock or dire goth, but darkness was only one facet of their set and arguably not the focal point.

Wax Idols' tightness was demonstrated in the first two songs, which found two female instrumentalists down-picking in a precise manner that emphasized the chord changes, while frontwoman Hether Fortune throttled her own guitar neck and sang with equal parts agitation and melody. The initial songs showed Wax Idols' penchant for pop song structure and chord progressions delivered rapidly with post-punk austerity. But then "Human Condition" arrived and illustrated the flexibility of Fortune's songwriting. The track's slow, enunciated choruses were a surprise so early in the set, but the audience appeared enraptured by the sudden change of pace. Her chanted verses were like a gripping incantation and culminated in the cathartic, shimmering chorus. The song's ritualistic overtone was helped by the group's visual aesthetic, but Fortune's deliberate guitar chugging and repetitive vocals framed her as equal parts conjurer and performer. The verses were like lines from a cryptic text, and the chorus was exaltation reaped from her invocations.

wax2_both.jpg

The rest of their set drew on more straight-ahead, energetic songs. "Dead Like You" and "La La La La Love You" in particular were striking for their effective structural symmetry. Fortune has tapped into the subtle pop formula in which no part of a song is repeated too often, held for too long, or inserted awkwardly following a bridge. Her segues and hooks contain the elusive simplicity of realized pop, only usually injected with morose sentiments and administered live with a natural balance of professionalism and flippant attitude. Like a sugar cube soiled by a single drop of blood, Wax Idols were unsettling but pleasantly bittersweet to taste.

Critic's notebook

Notable attendees: Mark Burgess of English post-punk group The Chameleons was in attendance and appeared to enjoy himself.

Merch table oddities: Free condoms courtesy of Burnt Ones in honor of Pride.

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Sam Lefebvre

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