It’s a natural fact: people love to be herded. This simple law of humankind can go a long way in explaining the languid go-nowhereness of America’s college-aged brood. No leaders, no movements, no causes so to speak are made evident to us on the flashy electronic windows we look to for any and all evidence of a world outside the little clouds of semi-urban academia that to us are everything but are invisible from space. Instead, stagnation and cyclical gridlock. Time is moving forward, but we’re not. The solution? Make a movement out of our lack thereof.
Listening to Iceage’s You’re Nothing a few months back on my Twin XL gray-plastic-coated dorm room bed, doing my best to drown out the sound of the industrial dryer (tool of a bedbug genocide) compounding natural humidity a few doors down, my mouth went just the tiniest bit ajar. It was passionate music, furious and seemingly dangerous but impossible to turn away, with groaning guitars pitch-bouncing between narrow walls and deep, coal-fire vocals not always clear but inspiring nonetheless. Iceage don’t seem to have a philosophy, but that’s their philosophy. Their calls to action are calls to do nothing in particular, and, hell, it seems to resonate. I was in a state of disbelief: music like this can still exist? So yeah, I was excited when I heard they were heading down all the way from Denmark to play a few feet from me in a tiny club in the middle of a class-C city that to them may as well be a swamp. But this is a tale of tragedy.
Okay, I’m being melodramatic. It was an alright show. Two Richmond groups and two groups of Danes. The first band up, Brief Lives, was a hardcore band. Not much else to say there, though I did note that the crowd was unnaturally still during their performance, not because they were really offensive in anyway. We just sort of stared at them, nodding as if consumed in intellectual analysis of their 3-chord stomps. What are same-y hardcore bands good for if not slam-dancing? Is it passe now and I just haven’t heard? Anyway. Next up was Springtime, another Richmond outfit, their sound paralleling Fugazi with dashes of stadium glamour giving the show a kind of rap-rocking raging-against-the-machining feel. Their recorded material is pretty good, and can be found here. Worth a listen.
So then the Danes. Lower, presumably buddies with the Iceage guys, took the stage first, all sporting close shaves, t-shirts tucked in to jeans, and distinctively Danish faces. I don’t know a lot about Denmark, but I do know about Hamlet, and their set kind of reminded me of Hamlet. I mean, it was really damn sad. Like Joy Division except so joyless they would have been legally obligated to remove “Joy” from their name, despite its irony. They were nominally a punk band in the vein of the rest of the night’s bill, but much slower. Most fascinatingly, they seemed either totally oblivious or totally immune to the tropes of American punk rockin’. In other words, little kinetic energy was coming from the stage. The guys playing instruments stood very still as if focusing all energy into their spindly fingers. The singer looked out into the crowd with the intensity of a slow-mo Henry Rollins, also quite statue-esque except that each and every time he delivered a line he would carefully and with much purpose place his non-microphoned hand on his heart. I got the message. He meant every single word he was saying. Of course, none of us understood any of it, but still.
Lower hung around 15 minutes longer than scheduled, and by the end we were all sleepy, but the looming appearance of punk’s latest superstars was enough to perk the mood in that sweatbox of a venue. Vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt began without saying hello. “Ecstasy” was the jump-off point, as it was on You’re Nothing. It was good. The crowd started to move. Rønnenfelt had a strange echo set-up on his mic, as if he was dreaming of wider spaces and more faces, that sapped a great deal of the life and immediacy, even personality, from his delightfully unique style. Ennui that was endearing and empathetic on record just sounded like boredom, especially if you looked into his eyes.
Between songs, he garbled the name of what they were going to play next, and then they played it, as if mechanized. It was a nice mix of tunes from both of their full-lengths, although they excluded a few crowd favorites, like New Brigade’s “White Rune” and “Coalition” and “In Haze” from their latest. No song felt as compact or regimented in person. The discipline they have (or had?) in the studio was nowhere to be found, and they hadn’t made up for it by cranking up the energy. In short, the performance was cold. Not only that, it was short. In short, it was short and cold. I had been engaged in a few skirmishes, lingering just outside the self-contained dome of flailing limbs emanating from the stage. Just as I felt ready to finally throw myself into the fray, the show was over. I mean like brick wall over. Rønnenfelt simply walked away. No thanks, not even you’re welcome, just an implied “You’re Nothing.” Throwing a disappointing show is pretty rock n’ roll, but then again, rock n’ roll is dead.