I like to believe that I am up on the latest rock bands bringing the noise. But there’s a process to justifying that claim and I am ever daunted by groups that slip under my radar—even more so when they are declared the ne plus ultra before I’ve had the chance to weigh in. I had certainly heard the buzz and read the press on Brooklyn’s Panthers but I hadn’t been directly privy to their Stoogesesque, structuralist, punk anthems.
To rectify my Pantherless world, I went to Chicago’s Open End Gallery to check the scene. Rarely is a rock show’s setting as equally dazzling as the band’s performance itself. Yet here at the gallery I felt like I was at a veritable happening. Open End is in an old warehouse space on Chicago’s near-west side where the stunning lights of the skyline shimmer in the backdrop. The space was filled with found objects, salvaged ephemera, and roadside detritus all transformed into an ambitious art installation. The most intriguing piece was the stage, a mock ship with faux sails and a bow. It was upon the deck that lead singer Jayson Green led his men in musical mutiny.
Beginning inauspiciously, Panthers opened with spooky, psychedelic overtones and layers of echoing guitar reverb. The groove was halting and hesitant, a bit broken and trembling. On the second tune, introduced as “Don’t Be a Dick”, Greene grabbed a set of drumsticks and helped kick off the attack, joining his drummer in a tribal assault atop a thundering rumpasaurus bass beat. The guitars screeched in a spastic, knifing rhythm seemingly calling the audience to slip its skin. The sea of the great unwashed was non-plussed. “Theory is Famous” followed with a hammering hardcore breakdown that had four nervous fans bobbing their heads and twitching their bodies in time. Yet a greater connection was left unmet.
Panthers were nothing short of frantic and frenetic. They built rhythms with blistering intensity then slowed the pace to a gurgling eddy only to swirl anew with cascading sheets of noise. Despite the tempest, their sails fell flat. Polite applause greeted song endings. The collective roar was missing from the crowd.
There were hints of inspiration, occasional volleys of venom as on “Thank Me with your Hands” when the bassist lost himself in a flurry of head banging while the drummer slipped in a staccato, pulsing beat and the guitars washed the tune in a trippy, spacey color. However, too often Panthers seemed lost in a meandering miasma of fuzz and echo. The release never matched the build-up.
Six songs in, singer Greene declared, “Thanks for coming. This is our last song. It’s called ‘Stroke My Genius’.” With one final surge, Panthers endeavored to kick down walls, mixing the nervy agitated punk of the Damned with the slicing angular guitar of Wire only to wind up leaving me with the question, “That’s it? That’s the show?” With nary a notion of an encore, Panthers quickly disassembled and dissolved while the audience meekly registered the anti-climactic denouement.