Things got off to a slow start at the Blood Brothers’ show at the Knitting Factory. Despite being crowded to the front of the stage by the headliners’ equipment already arranged behind them, openers <> laid their hearts on the stage. The crowd was unimpressed, and I was unimpressed by the crowd. I figured songs that loud, rhythms that heavy, and energy that high deserved to be rewarded. Not that I did anything about it, but I officially became an old guy this year. So I had an excuse. During the intermission before the main event, I wondered what had happened to the infamous New York punk and hardcore kids. Were they a dying breed?
19 Jul 2003: Knitting Factory New York
The moment the Blood Brothers came on it was clear that the kids are alright. The songs were louder, the rhythms were heavier, and the energy was higher. And the crowd responded. They undulated in time with the Brothers, no matter how convoluted the band's rhythmic changes, and struggled to be as close to the stage as space would allow, trying to become part of the Blood Brothers family. Lead screamers Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney showed their gratitude, rewarding the audience with opportunities to scream along.
In between occasional shoves of a microphone into the audience, Blilie and Whitney broke viscous sweats, impatiently overpowering the Knitting Factory's feeble climate control system. Whitney's was so powerful that I mistook his sweat-soaked tan shirt for a second skin. As great as the Blood Brothers' powers were, the room was too large to handle without the backup gladly provided by the audience. By the third song, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy, and the temperature, along with the humidity, had risen dramatically. Even those of us in the balcony were enveloped by the intense environment created by the Blood Brothers. We had thought we were safe from harm and free to enjoy the show in a comfortable, controlled atmosphere, but the Blood Brothers had channeled their raw energy into crowd control and climate control to make sure we were part of the action too. Having recalibrated the space to its liking, the band proceeded to wail through one screamo hit after another.
This is a young band, one that has been together over six years but in which all the members are still in their early twenties. This youth showed in the songwriting. Favoring difficult time signatures and many changes in any given song, this format has been mastered most completely in newer songs easily recognized from their major label debut, Burn Piano Island, Burn. Older songs shared the rhythmic complexity but lacked the cohesiveness developed as the band’s songwriting matured. Even so, the oscillating rhythms shimmered live, no matter where they lay in the chronology of the band’s catalog, benefiting from the maturation process of playing together for six years.
Besides perfecting the delivery of songs written with little more than youthful exuberance, the Blood Brothers have polished their stage presence. As unusual as two vocalists for a hardcore band might be, nothing seemed more normal than Blilie and Whitney prowling the stage with bleeding throats. The same was true for bassist Morgan Henderson, who switched between rock’s standard issue four-string electric bass and a keyboard synthesizer to hold up his end of the band. Guitarist Cody Votolato and drummer Mark Gajadhar stuck to a more traditional approach, but were no less competent.
Blood Brothers have avoided the trap set for musicians as their skills grow. This is the trap that Mars Volta fell into, the trap of prog. So many bands try to challenge themselves with extended solos and rarely used musical motifs after getting the hang of just playing together. But the Blood Brothers bailed on the grandiosity adopted by contemporaries Mars Volta and opted to continue to work on and expand the classic hardcore format of fast/slow/breakdown. There is still work to be done, but the result is more Victim’s Family than Emerson Lake and Palmer. And for that I thank them. Clearly, the audience approved, demonstrating their appreciation by pogoing and dancing along with more advanced punk moves that I think I saw on MTV2.
After a seemingly never-ending stream of energy, which was actually a little over an hour, the Blood Brothers wrapped things up. I figured by then that Blilie and Whitney would have turned their larynxes into undifferentiated cellular masses with their intense vocal stylings, and the whole band would have crumbled into a sweated-out dehydrated mess, but everyone had managed to hang in there to the end.