18 Jan 2002: Brownie's New York City
By the night’s end, it seemed everything had been destroyed—including the band. Drummer Ron Albertson eyed his band mates venomously, gingerly re-erecting his toppled bass drum and cymbal, which both were casualties of a monsoon of (literal) post-punk angst. Bassist Pat Noecker had careened into the crowd, parting it defiantly, absolutely—though to say it parted like the Red Sea is to render the moment with a spirituality that it obviously pooh-poohed. And the witnesses it to it all just looked at each other—the first timers in disbelief, the Liars veterans in dumbstruck awe—and they wandered around the jam-packed club, some of them in circles, not sure if it was really safe to leave. In short, things were broken, people were scattered, and the whole room was short circuited—filled with live wires, but somehow just not functioning.
But could you really expect anything else? After all, Liars have a reputation to uphold as the purveyors of overwhelming, death-defying shows. They go postal, they fuck shit up, and they take no prisoners. And on this particular night, as the saucy headliners at infamous indie venue Brownie’s, if I may resurrect an unfortunate early ‘90s catchphrase, they ruled.
Everything the Liars do oozes with parody, mischief, and a keen commentary on the ridiculous theatrics of rock. They begin by emanating a sort of DIY savoir-faire as they took the stage, in a way that seemed too dandyish for a punk outfit. Lead singer Angus—the main champion of this air - donned a foppish cap and pin-striped pants which made him look like an emaciated sailor. And the rest of the band were well behaved and role-playing enough. Sweet faced guitarist Aaron Hemphill would undoubtedly be “the heartthrob” if this were any other band, but in this context looked like the sugar-coated sibling along for the ride; to uphold the familial metaphor, Pat Noecker appeared nothing short of a fun loving uncle, armed with tricks and toys; and Ron Albertson has the cooler-than-thou swagger of an older brother (and, as already evidenced, a keen love for his skins.)
So I guess that leaves Angus to be a gender-bending fusion of a frumpy mother and a blitzed out dad. (Warning: references to other hybrids forthcoming.) When he whipped off his shirt to reveal a sleeveless red sweater adorned with gold leaves (like a bastardized garage sale find), the band began to barrel through the screechy “Loose Nuts On the Veladrome” from their release They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top; suddenly, all pretenses of propriety bolted—as did all senses of logic, time, order, and space. He screamed like an un-anaesthetized amputee as his band mates thrashed and throttled their instruments as if they were hated artifacts. There was no being eased into their brand of chaos—you were pushed, full force, whether you liked it or not.
And indeed, the kids who filled Brownie’s to capacity that night certainly liked it. Since their album released in October, they’ve earned oodles of new, dedicated fans that support them vigorously at each and every outing—and they’ve done their fair share in those few short months. For those who had jumped on the album’s hype back in the fall, it seems to only take one visit before you want to join the throngs of converts. I can certainly attest. I was told by a friend before I had seen them that the Liars album—wily, aggressive, and spontaneous as it is—couldn’t hold a candle to the sheer pandemonium of their live performances. That was a gross underestimate. Liars char the shit out of every track, raising the heat to 10,000 degrees and demonically determined to make you sweat.
At a wiry 6’6”, Angus is somehow the malnourished cross between Charles Manson and the Bionic Man. Charles Manson because he looks readied to kill: during numbers like “The Garden Was Crowded, and Outside” he towered, crazed, and seemingly searching for his next victim. Bionic because it seems no trick is beyond his imagination or strength. He threw him self, ass up, into the drum set; he crawled like a virgin on top of the amps, he thrusted, Michael Jackson style, at the screaming fans while unzipping his fly; he sang into another band members mic with such passion it seemed believable that, at any moment, they might quit playing all together and descend into a balls-out orgy. And he did this with all the stop-jerk animation of a remote control robot, as if he had hinges, not joints.
His band mates followed suit, rivaling the Ex in terms of sheer locomotion on stage. During “Mr. You’re on Fire, Mr”. Also from They Threw Us they somehow managed to nail the aggressive, syncopated rhythms while also erupting into seizures and fits.
They played a number of songs off They Threw Us as well as some other material, but the crowd favorite by far was “Grown Men Don’t Fall in the River, Just Like That”. As it opened with Angus chanting, the crowd quieted and readied themselves to join in on the crescendo-ing chants of “Can you hear us/ can you hear us/ can you hear us/ can you hear us”? before the song splits in two and reforms as a blitzkrieg of sound. It seemed that mean, manic little spirits, who drove their bodies to fling about uncontrollably, possessed them. The song finished dramatically, with Aaron Hemphill slamming his guitar down in an emblematic display of punk rock (which also resulted in Angus asking the crowd if someone had a pick so they could finish out the set.)
After re-organizing (relatively speaking), Liars played finished out their 45-minute set with “We Live NE of Compton”, another number which made the crowd wild. And by that point, the Liars were wild too, and all about an appetite for destruction.
But I guess once you’ve broken the mold, you’ve gotta keep on breaking.