Reviews

Hella + Need New Body + The Make Believe

Emily Sogn
Hella + Need New Body + The Make Believe

Hella + Need New Body + The Make Believe

City: New York
Venue: The Knitting Factory
Date: 2004-05-30

Hella
The last time I saw Hella, it was on the brink of twilight at the tail end of along day of watching bands at the CMJ Suicide Squeeze showcase at Pianos Lounge. It had been an arduous week of hot rock, and I don't think I was the only person in the venue that was a little punchy with exhaustion. With a belly swollen with of a late brunch of eggs, bacon, and toast and about three cups of coffee, I joined the faithful in front of the stage, never having seen the band before. The minute drummer Zach Hill began beating a rhythm so fast and frantic that the vibrations almost made my breakfast come up I became an instant fan. The show was incredible, making for a perfect finale to a near perfect week of music. This memory was etched vividly in my mind as I made my way to the Knitting Factory to see Hella Thursday evening. I knew that the experience would be different, if only because they were playing with two bands instead of the whopping six of the CMJ showcase. This also meant that the bulk of the crowd would be there to see them and them only. This crowd, it turns out, is a dude's crowd. I say this not only because the guys out numbered the girls at about four to one, but also because these guys were dudes in the strictest sense of the word. Not the baseball cap-turned-backwards frat boy type, but the type that likes to smoke lots of weed, skateboard, play video games, and -- as I was to find out later -- mosh. This bro-centric theme was reinforced as I walked into the Knitting Factory's main performance space. It seemed that show had started ahead of schedule, so instead of finding reworked Joan of Arc new project Make Believe on the stage, I was bombarded by a large scale projection of a cartoon involving anthropomorphic fast food products. Although the murmuring of the steadily growing crowd made it hard to hear the dialogue, I soon gathered that the main characters of this animated narrative were a carton of French fries, a large soda, and aptly named 'meat wad', a brown sponge-like creature with tiny arms and legs sticking out of its round little body. After four mildly funny episodes, the crowd was getting restless and as the fifth one began to roll, some unruly fans began to politely let Need New Body know that it was time to bring on the rock. Oddly, the band seemed to be waiting for this kind of urging to begin their performance and without further ado, the screen was rolled up and all but one of the members of Need New Body were at their instruments, grinning like cats. As the errant second drummer wandered on stage, singer MC Jeff Bradbury apologized for him, informing the crowd that he was had been busy "writing in brown chalk on white porcelain." Sadly this less-than-clever attempt to be amusing seemed to set the tone for Need New Body's set. Although the band's set- up of bass, keyboards, two drummers (playing the same set amazingly enough) made for some spirited, if not slightly askew dance music, it was Bradbury himself who brought the band down. Looking like tattooed and lit-up version of Will Oldham, the singer lurched and mumbled his through the set. The band's no-wave dance numbers are risky, barely adhesive things, and ultimately they ended up failing to be engaging because of Bradbury's failure to provide the final bit of synthesis that would have tied the band together. They managed to conjure up a few ephemeral moments of truly inspired noise, but sadly, these only served to underscore the mediocrity of the rest of the set. The air palpably changed when the screen was rolled up after another, thankfully shorter round of animated amusement, revealing a poised and ready Zach Hill and Spencer Sein. The girlfriend I had brought along with me swooned audibly as the golden-haired Hill kicked off the thunderous rumble of his double bass, a noise that was nearly ceaseless throughout the band's exhaustive set. Sein's guitar chimed in soon after, loud and surprising clear, compared to the raucous din that is commonly heard on their records. Tolling bent notes like a sonic church bell Sein called out a tuneful melody, and then proceeded to destroy it with a wall of thick distortion. When watching Hella, one is immediately impressed by their frenetic energy. Time signatures and conventional song structures seem to be absent from the duo's songwriting, but this disarray is largely illusory, providing dense cover for the fragile chemistry that holds their arrangements together. For all of their California style stoner-metal posturing, Hill and Sein are not a couple of surfer dudes looking for the perfect wave through music. Each arrhythmic pause and kamikaze fill is carefully written in to their sonic concoctions and expertly executed without sacrificing spontaneity. This formula precarious makes each song bristle with anxious intensity, like it is struggling not to shatter into a thousand little pieces, and it is clear by watching Hella that it is not an effect that is easily achieved. A remarkable intimacy seems to be the magic ingredient that helps to make the band's performance so thrilling. This is evidenced in the way that the two musicians position themselves onstage. They are not facing the audience as much as they are facing each other. Except for a few exceptions when his head droops towards the ground in a daze, Sein constantly has his eye on Hill's drum kit, and frequently on Hill himself. In what seems to be a language coded in soundless gestures and jerks of the head, the two keep each other in check. Though their songs frequently deviate from their recorded versions, languishing in Hill and Sein never diverged from each other, brandishing a steady, if almost imperceptible synthesis. I was not the only person at the Knitting Factory thrilled by Hella's noisy soundscapes. Moshing and crowd surfing, of a kind that I haven't seen since my days at straight-edge shows in Seattle seemed to be the order of the day as Hella thrashed through their set. Being a petite girl who doesn't fancy feet, fists, or backpacks in my face, I wasn't able to participate in this frenzied response to Hella's playing. But even so, I understood why they were so excited and I was able to set aside my annoyance at being shoved and appreciate the all-encompassing sublime that few bands can serve up like Hella.

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