A Place to Bury Strangers: 7 April 2009 - Mecanique Ondulatoire, Paris, France
I like Mecanique Ondulatoire, the venue where I saw the ascendant fuzz rock royalty A Place to Bury Strangers, but by most standards – with just a 150-person capacity—it is too small for this band. (APTBS played Paris last November in the Nouveau Casino, a 400-person capacity venue.) Descending into its basement concert lair, the Mecanique Ondulatoire, with its arched form of huge sand-colored rectangular stones, looks like a medieval torture chamber. And with a sardine-packed sold out crowd inside, the venue is more a closed-off tunnel than a room.
What does all of this matter for the concert? Acoustics and your bodily sensorial experience with the music—that’s what.
If the venue is horrible for a classical musician, it is in some perverted sense perfect for APTBS, who sonically buried about 150 strangers at this show. Their whole aura is about echoes, reverberations, and the challenges of controlling and shaping dissonant sounds. And just as techno fans find a visceral pleasure in the throbbing bass and industrial pummeling of that genre, so, too, do fans of APTBS surely enjoy being washed over by the tidal wave of sound. Do you know the feeling of wading into an ocean with big waves? Imagine that wave was coming from guitars, drums, and the beauty of amplification technology.
If you know anything about APTBS, you know they have been rightly described as the Jesus and Mary Chain circa Psychocandy. Their slow and patient, incredibly loud guitar distortion layered with echoing second guitars and drums also recalls certain hooks from the Cure. The wall of dissonant sound always threatening to spiral off into consummate cacophony is magnificently corralled into an overall melodic structure, that recalls My Bloody Valentine. Fuck Buttons, if only in their love of distortion, also come to mind. And on songs like “My Weakness”, the soaring sounds are reminiscent of early Love and Rockets. Given the myriad influences, APTBS have definitely studied their predecessors, but the closest thing to this concert that I can recall, however, is Sonic Youth shows I’ve attended.
To say that APTBS is loud is a comical understatement. It is an earthquake of sound, wherein your whole body trembles; the guitars and drums beating like a second heart. In essence, it was bliss. That was, of course, with earplugs in tow. When I took them out for a second to see if it was just the plugs or the sound, I noticed that the vocals were less distinguishable than on the record, even in the measures where the distortion was dropped in order to foreground those vocals better. I guess the production of the recording is tame compared to the real thing—at least in the cramped confines of a medieval tunnel.