Power chords akin to Whitesnake and monotonic pointillistic bass lines that evoked the Strokes were this London quartet’s calling card. Added on were anguished and self-involved lyrics that sometimes became morbid or drab and resentful. Singing in what began as a grumbled, mumbled, voice, the lead singer took on a more euphonious tone as the set progressed and he honed in his vocals around the intended notes. Heavy synthesizers permeated all their songs, either sounding like icicles and serving as decorative accents or calming amorphous swaths of light and adding background. Singing usually took precedence for the lead singer, letting his guitar hang loosely during verses and only picking it up to play final garnishes. When he did dig in to it, he pulled heavy on his whammy bar, letting his guitar snarl before singing. But more often than not it was the relentless beating bass line that covered any cantabile cadence.
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Playing dreary treble soaked guitar rock, Violens’ sound drew heavily from the Smiths and Morissey. The lead singer’s mumbled, somber melodies were distant and detached, as if singing the songs recreated whatever melancholy motives went into writing them. Super-synthesized keys backed up the heavier guitar sounds, usually in wishy-washy smothering chords. Though the songs were consistently minor-toned, the bass player’s melodic lines hinted at reconciling whatever had got them down to begin with. More interesting rhythms populated most of their songs too, giving you a sense that they were trying to expand the indie rock sound rather than just master it.
Most of the artists involved in the Panache Showcase, which took over the Knitting Factory on Friday night, tended to emphasize style over substance (see: An Albatross). But in this respect, Los Angeles foursome The Mae Shi represented the exception to the rule—they turn style into substance. The Mae Shi are a gigantic ball of energy and enthusiasm, marrying No Age-like showmanship and intensity to their anthemic spazz-punk musical catalogue. Though they supplemented their set with a few props, such as performing part of the show beneath a gigantic rainbow parachute that they unfurled over the crowd, it never seemed like a plea for attention and it worked well with the Day-Glo madness the group personifies. Floating on a sea of major key guitar melodies, a packed house easily bought into The Mae Shi’s half-inaudible speed punk, half drunken sing-along. The foursome brought everyone along for a 45-minute ride, and by the end, few seemed eager to get off the bus—myself included.
Eddie Gieda – vocalist for An Albatross—is an evangelist for nightmares. It might have been the only gig the guy could get, considering he looks like a D-list Steven Tyler on acid. Nonetheless, if his performance with the circus sideshow that is An Albatross is any indication, Gieda has embraced the occupation with every ounce of himself. Between Gieda’s onstage antics, which frequently included walking over the crowd, and bassist Jason Hudak nearly sticking both his fists down his own throat, it was clear from the get go that An Albatross’ mish mash of psychedelic rock and spazz punk were secondary to their absurd stage show. But though it provided merely a soundtrack to their freaked out circus, An Albatross performed it well, bludgeoning the crowd with sonic knives for 45 minutes straight. I’m still not entirely sure what I saw, but I’m now a believer.
The self-proclaimed “last hair band in Seattle,” Akimbo’s curly locks may be the only frill they brought to their CMJ set at the Knitting Factory. This made them somewhat of an anomaly amongst their Panache showcase compatriots, when you consider that they were preceded by a set which ended with 6-foot inflatable gargoyles being thrown about the crowd and followed by a group that consisted of what appeared to be a coal miner, Steven Tyler’s evil twin, and a demon-possessed bassist. This is all fine, though, since Akimbo doesn’t really need anything extra to bring their brand of ear-splitting rock to the table. The left coast trio are a throwback to punk and hardcore acts of old to be sure, but their driving, almost tribal, brand of punishing rock remains fresh because of the sincere confidence with which it is performed. While they didn’t have the stage presence of An Albatross or The Mae Shi, who followed them, there’s something to be said for a band that can just get up there and throw down a quality set with no bells or whistles attached.