Monday, April 4, 2011


As representatives of the Popular Music Club, Ellen and I bring positive reports from our music experience in Ann Arbor on Saturday, April 2. We attended a concert (or “show”, if you will) at a youth center called the Neutral Zone as a husband and wife date.  (Our fellow club members were tied up with various commitments including a nearly 4 hour opera production [great job, by the way].)

Opening the evening’s events was a collaborative of musicians from around the country in a sort of progressive, experimental, overall nice-to-listen-to band, Capillary Action. Ellen was particularly delighted by the band’s ability to “break down genres,” and they certainly did that. At times they channeled Gentle Giant, Architecture in Helsinki and Converge (a strange combination I know, but it really worked) with a sort of jazz seasoning binding all these elements together.

After their set, we had a chance to talk with the guys. They seem a lot like us, musicians doing whatever they can to “make it,” often making huge financial sacrifices to do something they love. It’s both encouraging and discouraging the same time.

Check their music here:
I particularly like “Methheads and Mormons,” a song about Salt Lake City, definitely the strangest city in the United States.

When I was maybe 13, getting into bands like MXPX (don’t judge me), I was chatting with a buddy of mine at a bookstore, browsing through CDs. “Have you heard of this band?” he asked me pointing to a CD, “They sound like [TV static sound created with the mouth] the whole time.” At the time I really thought Extol sounded just like that--noise. Why would anyone like this and seek it out for personal enjoyment? A few years later, I was a huge fan of metal and hardcore. Several years later, my musical tastes have expanded as has my definition of “music.” After several listens metal sounds less like noise and more like music, even melodic at times. Enter Wolf Eyes.

Wolf Eyes makes hardcore and metal sound like child’s play. After hearing these guys Metallica is almost relaxing, and your mother wished you still listened to this.

My first encounter with Wolf Eyes was some time in the fall of last year. Ellen and I were seeing Lightning Bolt in Kalamazoo and Wolf Eyes was opening for them. I had never heard of them or had any idea what they were all about. When they started playing I was confused, but interested. What were these guys doing? They created a ruckus of mish-mash noise through slapping and general mistreatment of a guitar (certainly never plucking a string or note), overblown soprano saxophone and variety of homemade and altered electronic devices. A handful of people were rocking out, head banging to a non-existent pulse, and another handful were tripping balls, probably on some sort of psychotropic substance. Everyone else was irritated.

I was well prepared for the show in Ann Arbor and certainly not disappointed. A dialogue between vocalist Nate Young and the sound engineer sums up the experience pretty well:

Young: Can I get more drum machine in these monitors? More…More...More…That’ll do.

Engineer: Yeah, it’s maxed out.

Young: Cool.

Hearing loss was most certainly unavoidable, even with max-power ear protection.

The performance resonated with me much more than I expected it would. The droning mass of sound beat against the pitch-bending sax and created a weird, primitive space to dwell in. There were moments when I felt like I was going to go berserk and lose my mind. Most of the time I really, really liked it. The most enjoyable part of the music was the use of extremely loud, low frequency bursts created by a drum machine. Each beat was felt just as much as it was heard, vibrating the entire body, like one of those cheap massage chairs in a shopping mall. The feeling made me want to rush to the restroom and have massive diarrhea or vomit. Either way, I enjoyed it. I felt like a baby inside its mother’s womb, being massaged by the vibrations of her voice. In a way it was therapeutic, a simultaneous full-body massage of sound.

Check out this clip. Get a feeling for their music. Why should you listen? Because it’s cool. If you don’t think it’s cool you should listen to it anyway, because it’s there.

I love this clip mainly for one reason: If you put these guys in suits and a performance hall, this could be avant-garde classical music worthy of scholarly, academic attention (hint hint). As it is, it’s just “noise.”

And Lightning Bolt was Lightning Bolt—sheer volume, high-energy, melt-your-face-off rock n roll (?). Ellen and I have been lucky enough to survive two Lightning Bolt shows with out facial damage.

As soon as the band started playing, the venue lit up. It was near impossible to stand stationary for more than 30 seconds as the mass of jumbling bodies enveloped innocent bystanders. It became one of those shows where, when you get out of the shit, you don’t know if your shirt is soaked with your sweat or the sweat of the ten people around you.

Lightning Bolt remains one of my favorite bands, and the chemistry between the two players is unbeatable. Drummer Brian Chippendale is hyperactive and can’t sit still for more than five seconds, while bassist Brian Gibson puts on a sad, puppy-dog, “I’m really tired, but am mildly amused by this situation” face.

Check this video and see what you all missed:

If you would like to experience Wolf Eyes and several other similar music outfits for yourself, American Tapes is hosting a 900th release celebration on Saturday April 23, from 2-10 PM in Detroit. Admission is FREE! If you are daring (or stupid) enough to go, I’ll probably make the hike sometime in the afternoon. Here’s the info:


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