Bathysphere with A Place to Bury Strangers at First Avenue, 7/6/13
Photo courtesy of the artist
Bathysphere 2013 with A Place to Bury Strangers, the Telescopes, the Vandelles, Highspire, Lorelle Meets the Obsolete, LSD and the Search for God, Chatham Rise and Floorian
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Saturday, July 6, 2013
There are a few hard truths that can be taken from Saturday's installment of the two-night Bathysphere. It wasn't exactly a festival, but it had the makings of one, at First Avenue. Billed as "a psychonautical voyage," Saturday featured music from eight different bands from around the globe that operate in the shoegaze/noise rock part of the musical spectrum and while on paper the idea seemed tantalizing and brain-melting in the best possible way, in practice it didn't quite play out as such.
As we found out a few weeks ago, 27 minutes of drone-y, dissonant guitars can divide a city with ease. The same idea (with, admittedly, more fully formed songs -- not just one stretched out nearly double it's standard-issue length) can prove to be similarly overwhelming and maddening over the course of six hours. By the time headliners A Place to Bury Strangers ended the night with what was truly an inspired, cathartic, phenomenally noisy 45-minute set, so many other things -- or, more precisely, so much of just one thing -- had happened it was hard to make heads or tails of the five hours that preceded it.
"Which of these bands had the guys with sunglasses?" "LSD and the Search For God had the girl drummer, or was that the Vandelles? Did both bands have girl drummers?" The questions came in droves like that and proved hard to answer, even with a fistful of notes. It seemed a chart would have been more the order of the day to keep it all straight.
Most of the problem was rooted in the fact that all the bands were of the same genre, a genre that is generally enjoyable, if a bit difficult to penetrate -- it's awfully noisy in there at first. But the well from which the bands pull water is too shallow to keep thing interesting over a long period of time. All of it can trace its roots back to My Bloody Valentine, Ride, the 13th Floor Elevators and just a few other bands and the space in which they exist, though impeccably decorated, is cramped with a low ceiling.
The guitars droned, the tambourines and maracas clanged and clapped. The female singers aped MBV's Bilinda Butcher as best they could and Phantom guitars were used more than necessary. These are all signatures of shoegaze: the dreamy, often-female vocals; the dragged out, fuzzy, feedback-filled guitar lines; the general feeling of everything being overblown just to do so. Over the course of one album or one 90-minute show it can feel life-affirming and inspiring, but the further away you get from that 90-minute mark the more it begins to feel oppressive and outright annoying.
There were definite highlights along the way, to be sure. It wasn't a bad ride all the way through. Locals Chatham Rise put on one of the night's better sets, which included a drawn-out, ultra-fuzzy solo of sorts toward the end and the Telescopes, who have been around since 1987, put on a veritable clinic in shoegaze, playing what seemed to be just two (possibly three) songs over the course of 50 minutes. Much of which consisted of buzzy, distorted vocals low in the mix, thunderous, slowed-down bass lines and a tsunami of flanged-out feedback. Had this been a three-hour show instead of six, it would have been a fine way to spend an evening, but everything between Chatham Rise and the Telescopes sort of blended together in a miasma noisy, flange-y, fuzzed-out sameness that made it hard to distinguish most of the bands from each other.
A Place to Bury Strangers put on what was easily the night's best set. The noise came fast and furious and did not dissipate or even lull for the entire set. It was ominous, frightening, the overall effect like being waterboarded with lead paint. Lead singer Oliver Ackermann threw his guitar across the stage about three songs in, splitting the top half of the body from the guitar, but still the show raged on, feedback blaring from what seemed like every angle including up from the floor. It hit the crowd in way that made it seem ducking from it could foster an escape, but none was to be had Saturday.
Not until the final moments was the crowd offered respite. During which Ackermann turned off the strobe lights that were flashing onstage, save for one, which he turned up to flash at high speed then attacked his guitar with it like a rabid animal, finally putting the axe out of it's misery. Bassist Dion Lunadon strummed a few parting notes that ran through the crowd like an angry mob out for blood, then simply pressed one singular button to make it all stop and suddenly the Mainroom was deathly silent for a few fleeting seconds before the cheering started. Bathysphere had come to a brutal, brilliant close but it was a long, sometimes trying walk with a few missteps to get there.
Critic's Bias: The noisy, feedback-infused genre known as shoegaze is one of my favorites overall, but even this fairly hardcore fan couldn't handle the length of general one-note aspect of it all. It was (and is) a great idea, but if Bathysphere happens again, a bit of diversity might be in order.
The Crowd: Sparse but engaged. Those who were there really wanted to be there, but Fourth of July weekend probably contributed at least some to the sluggish ticket sales.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I can't believe how fucking loud this is!" from two different people during the APTBS set.
Notebook Dump: This thing with the strobe light thing looks like something out of a horror movie in the best way possible--he seems to be murdering his guitar, didn't Looking for Mr. Goodbar end kind of like this?
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