KEN Mode & Birds In Row played ONCE – 10/21

Canadian noisemakers KEN Mode and French punk firebrands Birds In Row joined forces to descend on Somerville’s ONCE Ballroom last Sunday night. 

KEN Mode’s caustic sludge-rock and Bird In Row’s impassioned missives aren’t the most obvious matchup on paper, but the pairing yielded complementary intensity in practice.

Birds In Row – who released the stellar We Already Lost the World back in July – began their set by pointing lights at their amps rather than themselves, underscoring the collective identity pushed in their interviews and promo materials. And between their furiously political, unpredictably genre-bending songs, addresses to the crowd advocated for building community and expanding perspectives. It was an artful, moving and face-kicking set all at once.

KEN Mode, the veteran three-piece, opted to let the inescapable heaviness of their songs do most of the talking. Singer-guitarist Jesse Matthewson’s signature double-thumbs-down gesture (see above) is a pretty solid encapsulation of the band’s bleak but knowing outlook, as is their August-released seventh LP LovedIt’d been a minute since their last Boston appearance (I hadn’t seen them since a 2014 Middle East gig with Russian Circles), and it was great to have them back in town and splitting eardrums again.

I (unintentionally) missed first openers American Ethos, but check out photos from KEN Mode, Birds In Row and Boston noise-rock duo Bedtimemagic (complete with incredible dog-print bodysuits) below.