courtesy of Girlie Action.
The Texan, post-rock quartet This Will Destroy You played DC9 last Thursday. As I type this review several days later, I am still reeling from their titanic performance. I am tempted to free-style gush about it here, but instead I will break the evening down into pieces to help my brain sort out the chaos that is left in the wake of their visit to the nation’s Capital. In other words, rather than shout “Godzilla!” and start jabbering in incomprehensible language as I try to describe This Will Destroy You laying waste to everything in their path; I will try to provide you with a semi-coherent write-up of Thursday night’s show.
The evening began with a set by New York-based post-rockers, Slow Six. Slow Six put on a very respectable effort that soothed rather then challenged the crowd. They are unique in instrumental post-rock in that they are fronted by two violinists who are very much the rock-stars of the group. Slow Six also heavily features organ/keyboards which I particularly liked as it provided Hammond-like noodling underneath the violins and guitar. At one point, one of Slow Six’s violinist thrust a small hand-held radio into the hand of an audience member and asked him to hold it under a microphone for the duration of a song. The radio squawked and talked providing an almost Godspeed YBE feel to Slow Six’s set. It is always cool when acts work radio broadcasts into their sets. I’ve seen Radiohead, Rage Against The Machine, and a few others do this and it makes the performance a one of a kind piece of performance art. Slow Six gets major props for pulling such a neat trick. They also get the nod for making consistently noisy sound-scapes with their nontraditional lead instruments.
Next up were Chicago, psych-rockers, Light Pollution. After an agonizingly long sound-check I was expecting to be really blown away by this large band. After all this was a night of post-rock, one of the most precise genres around, and Light Pollution seemed to be very finicky about their settings. Instead Light Pollution launched into a very mediocre set of noisy, sloppy psychedelic rock. It was painfully average and somewhat annoying to listen to after the inventiveness of Slow Six, and knowing that This Will Destroy You were yet to perform. It was one of those lame sets that you dread having to sit through before the main act goes on. I normally would skip over writing about such lameness but since Light Pollution were sandwiched in-between good and great bands, well, they are getting a bit of the business. Light Pollution came across as very lame, particularly when compared to the great psych-rock I had seen just a few weeks earlier. Their set drove me downstairs to wait it out after awhile. When I returned to catch their ending number, I remained unimpressed and talked with more than one person in attendance who agreed with my assessment. I would say that Light Pollution should go back to the drawing board, or the garage, but instead I think maybe they should just go back to their day jobs.
This Will Destroy You (TWDY) also took a very long time to sound check but had an entirely different result. They crushed us. There is no other way to put it. TWDY crushed us. Their performance was mammoth, filling the room with a physical sound that picked you up and slammed you against the walls, merch table, and bar. Thank god DC9 recently remodeled and moved the old staircase or the force of their music would have been chucking people down the stairs with the frequency of a bouncer gone mad.
If there is one recurring description/criticism of post-rock music it is the quiet-loud-quiet-loud structure of most post-rock pieces. There is no denying that this is a structure that can flirt with formula. The beauty of the genre however is seeing what inventive ways bands can manipulate the structure. Some bands like Slow Six, approach it with nontraditional instruments to create music of real beauty. Others like Mogwai stick to the structure but play with its length for varying degrees of intensity or emotion. This Will Destroy You has a different approach to the quiet-loud thing. They basically obliterate the sense of calm or beauty that the quiet sections usually evoke; opting instead to fill those moments with tension and restrained noise, leaving the listener with no hope of coming up for air. Ever.
This Will Destroy You’s songs are epic in length and have the power of jet engines rumbling within them. With no rest for the weary listener, their sound explosions detonate all around you like you are standing naked in an artillery barrage. The listeners have no choice but to stand there wincing as all hell breaks loose around them. Thursday night’s show was phenomenal and wholly refreshing. TWDY are perhaps the most unsettling post-rock band I have experienced live. In a sense they create almost Industrial post-rock. There was never really a moment, even after they were joined by a Slow Six violist, when I thought that there was something beautiful going on. Instead TWDY’s songs played out like irresistable pressure-builds to inevitable natural disasters.
Composed of two guitarists, a bass player, and a drummer This Will Destroy You provide an awesome set of musicians to watch live. Their drummer and bass-player are very dynamic and have a lot to do as they are largely responsible for lending the quiet moments their sense of propulsion and dread. For the most part, their two guitarists avoided the Explosions In The Sky-style, beautiful, plinky guitar lines and opted instead to create shoegazer haze until opening up their roar-boxes during each song’s tumultuous finale.
There were two images that kept reoccurring in my mind while listening to TWDY’s on Thursday. The first image was of a tractor-trailer hurtling out-of-control down a mountain road. The second image was of a freight train speeding toward a gasoline tanker-truck stuck on the rails. Both images were in slow motion during TWDY’s quiet moments. Then after an eternity of anticipation the band launch into their loud parts. Huge, drawn-out guitar riots that had the imagined slo-mo tractor-trailer speed up to real time and smash through a road barricade, hurtling over the edge, down into a rocky ravine amid a shower of debris. This Will Destroy You’s loud moments were annihilating. Very similar to Mono in that their loud moments were so big that the listener is trapped within them and has no choice but to surrender to them. I imagined the runaway freight train also sped up to real-time and smashing into the gasoline-truck creating a massive fireball. When This Will Destroy You performed on Thursday night, the crowd were standing inside that fireball and it was wonderful.
Impeding doom and panic. Explosions and twisted metal. Instrumental tension and then forceful eruption. This is what This Will Destroy You sound like live. On Thursday night they most certainly lived up to their name. I am still picking up the pieces after their terrific and devastating concert.