22 Nov 2015: le poisson rouge New York
There’s something delightfully masochist about spending consecutive days getting audibly pummeled by the industrial-electro-noise-pop assault of HEALTH. With a light show that seems designed to induce epilepsy, the grinding crunch of guitars that would be well-suited for a cyborg rave, and the kind of relentless drumming attack that bounces around your throbbing skull for hours afterwards, the live HEALTH experience leaves no room for half-measures. You’ll either love it or leave the venue under the impression the devil himself had taken the stage.
The L.A.-based outfit, nominally a four-piece, but strangely lacking in the presence of multi-instrumentalist Jupiter Keyes for both their Saturday set at Music Hall of Williamsburg and their Sunday night round two experience at Le Poisson Rouge, doesn’t waste their time or energy cracking jokes with the audience. In lieu of stage banter, HEALTH simply smashes their way through their noise-pop catalog with the single-minded confidence that comes from a well-experienced band.
I was curious to see how HEALTH’s live show would translate to a standard NYC venue since I had the fortune of witnessing the band for the first time at a micro-festival in upstate New York. Basilica Soundscape, held for the fourth time this past September, took place inside a cavernous, hundred-year-old foundry. That rusting, black industrial hulk of metal gave HEALTH a space uniquely suited for their battle-ready near-robotic hymns.
With the foundry’s steel beam arms squeezing the crowd into a weekend-long metallic embrace, the fest’s noise-rock and defiantly abrasive electronic outfits bounced their calculated cacophony off the industrial graveyard in a melding of music and setting unlike any I had seen before.
But any worries I may have had about HEALTH’s live show in a more commonplace arena were quickly silenced within the first few notes of their Saturday night set. Launching with two abrasive cuts – “Zoothorns” and “Crimewave” – off their eight-year-old first album, the band immediately set out to tear the roof off the venue. The blinding lights flashed in time to the pounding drums, the chugging guitars fired the crowd into a frenzy, and bassist/resident noise-maker John Famiglietti spun his signature lengthy black locks into a whirlwind.
Although the band is touring behind Death Magic, the album they released this past summer, they filled up their set with cuts from throughout their nearly ten-year catalog. From “Die Slow”, the monstrous banger off Get Color, to “USA Boys” off their (mostly) remix album Health::Disco2, to even “Tears”, one of the songs they composed for the videogame soundtrack to first-person shooter Max Payne 3, the songs bled together one after another without a pause from the band or even a chance to give the audience time to catch their breath.
The band’s steadfast dedication to letting their music take (literal) center stage and to keep their own personalities far from the picture is refreshing. After spending more than an hour slaying the audience with their massive industrial-electro bangers, singer-guitarist Jake Duzsik had only a handful of words to directly address to the sweat-soaked mass writhing beneath his feet – “We’re HEALTH from LA. Thanks for coming,” – before launching into one of the final songs of the night.
But no one in the crowd seemed to mind his brevity. After all, what else would you need him to say?