When I last crossed paths with A Place to Bury Strangers, the noisy New York trio was performing an opening set for The Joy Formidable at the Paradise. Slotted before a more accessible, pop-minded band, the strobe lights, screeching feedback, bracing volume and instrument abuse largely irritated or confused an impatient crowd. In a headlining spot at the tiny and charmingly grimy Middle East Upstairs, they seemed much more at home.
A sub-200 capacity venue suits A Place to Bury Strangers exceptionally well. Their live show is all about sensory overload, and the smaller the room is, the harder it hits. They forwent traditional stage lights entirely, plunging the room into total darkness and illuminating themselves sparingly with splashed colors from projectors situated around the stage. Custom amplifier heads from frontman Oliver Ackermann’s effects pedal company Death By Audio stood atop speaker cabinets that dwarfed everyone in the room, and every instrument on stage looked to have barely survived a war zone. Once the band plugged in and turned up, a sonic war zone was essentially what the audience was in for.
A Place to Bury Strangers made a hell of a lot of noise for three people. Dion Lunadon’s bass growled with wall-rumbling force while over-driven shrieks and howls emanated from Ackermann’s battered Jaguar. Dispassionate vocals occasionally punched through the haze and Robi Gonzalez’s drums prevented the whole maelstrom from collapsing in on itself. Every song was a dense assault of thunderous low end and Jesus and Mary Chain-indebted skronk. The hooks still shined through though, especially on songs from the band’s front-to-back great 2009 LP Exploding Head. The instantly catchy “Deadbeat” continues to assert itself as a perfect three and a half minutes of noise-pop bliss.
While all these hallmark essentials of the live show the band is renowned for were firmly in place, something still felt missing from Monday’s performance. Blame it on end of tour fatigue, perhaps, but Ackermann and company seemed a bit more detached than usual. At times, the songs began to sound perfunctory. Energy levels still spiked when they needed to though, and the next-level freakout rendition of “I Lived My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart” which closed the set made up for any minor qualms. Ackermann and Lunadon attacked their instruments under an onslaught of strobe lights until they’d shredded off most of the strings, then cast them away and sent an amp head crowd-surfing as the song imploded into total chaos.
The whole set felt like it was over before it began, but in a sense that seemed like the band’s desired effect. With the bizarre projections, strobe lights and towering, reverberating volume, it was a hit and run assault of hallucinogenic visual and auditory overload. Even on a slightly off night, a show with A Place to Bury Strangers is still quite the experience.
Local trio Young Adults opened up the night with a set of noisy and earnest songs. With a sound that was equal parts shoegaze roar and punk intensity, the band tore into a 40 minute set with concentrated fury. It was an impressive showing from a young band worth keeping an eye on. Philadelphia’s Bleeding Rainbow followed, delivering a varied set that alternated between spacey pop songs and frantic dual-guitar noise freakouts with ease. The band also earns a commendation for following through on a good old-fashioned equipment trashing, which left shards of Stratocaster neck strewn about the stage at the close of their set.
A Place to Bury Strangers: