So I went into last night’s show with some misplaced expectations (therefore you should read the rest of this review with a grain of salt). Punk Danes Iceage played unfortunately predictable hardcore while Taiwanese noise popper Dirty Beaches presented a surprising cowboy score that sounded like machines meeting nature.
I read some press, listened to a few songs, and counted on some familiarity with the catalog at the label What’s Your Rupture? to get me started with Iceage. And so I was anticipating a post-punk band with hardcore overtones but instead I got a straight up hardcore band with a bit of melodic deftness.
Certainly, hardcore kids Iceage are not to blame for my misplaced anticipation. The four young men from Copenhangen thundered through roughly 10 two-minute songs, whipping up a good old-fashioned mosh pit in a sold-out show in the backstage of the Black Cat on Tuesday night.
I let myself be misled by What’s Your Rupture?’s taste in supporting efforts like a reissue of the Tronics’ Love Backed by Force and production of a single for The Long Blondes, both UK bands that have strong post-punk leanings. Iceage, however, is a totally different animal. The Black Cat’s website read that the band mixes the “best of Wire” with their hardcore and Pitchfork claims their debut album, New Brigade, mixes “the black atmosphere of goth, the wild-limbed whoosh of hardcore, and the clangor of post-punk.”
I’m left to disagree entirely. Iceage is a hardcore band that knows how to play instruments, which may distinguish it from other hardcore bands, but it hardly sets the genre on its ear. If like me, you prefer your punk flavored along the lines of UK garage standards The Cribs and Foals, you’ll be disappointed. If you’ve wondered how you can get closer to reliving Minor Threat shows, you may be somewhat pleased. Vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt thrashes away spastically on his guitar while screaming throughout the show while guitarist Johan Surrballe Wieth, bassist Jakob Tvilling Pless, and drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen soldier on stoically with a crisp presentation that almost makes them appear to be in another band entirely. I find the comparisons to Wire hollow indeed — there is no clever UK-flavored rock minimalism here. It’s all Danes and thunder.
So I’m left imagining if you were seeking a good hardcore show, Iceage would provide for you well. They do have a knack for providing a melodic moment or two after dirging away on their otherwise loud and heavy strings. In these moments, you get the briefest glimpse of a different band, but only too brief as within a split second, they have returned to their primary goal of firing up the mosh pit. I think last night demonstrated their limited versatility and this may well be as big as they get.
DC hardcore punks Give were the really the perfect openers for Iceage with their loud and screechy sound. The five guys — two guitarists, bass, drummer and vocalist — had a good intensity and focus. They played straight-up purpose-driven hardcore stuff that perhaps seemed a touch better suited as accompaniment for a really physical workout at the gym rather than a mosh in a darkened club. The guys clearly enjoyed what they do, however, and they show a love of straight-up rock and roll in their hardcore with songs like the catchy “Boots of Faith.” They truly did set the stage well for Iceage. (I unfortunately missed the first opener Satan’s Satyrs.)
Canadian Alex Zhang Hungtai, aka Dirty Beaches, looks a bit like an Asian gangster with his wifebeater, tattoos, and short hair. But he also looks startlingly serene as he sits down to his Korg and produced a guttural noise that initially sounds like driving over gravel. That sensation gives way to the sounds of machines abuzz over a windy field. And then a thread of east Asian influence? Perhaps a distant gong?
By the time a guitarist joins Mr. Zhang on stage, adding a bluesy world music vibe nestled within screeching dissonance, you are either perfectly enthralled or totally lost.
After the first 10-minute long selection, keyboardist and guitarist strike up something very reminiscent of Stand by Me by Ben E. King. Zhang starts to sing as well, which is a bit of a surprise given the instrumental nature of the first and longer song.
As Dirty Beaches play on, they get a bit more tribal and Zhang’s music swells to the point where you feel as if a storm is coming. It’s purely elemental in nature but you definitely feel a vibe as if a Western showdown is about to go down at noon on an alien world and you’re listening to its soundtrack. It’s all a bit raw and primal and Zhang punctuates his lyrics with a signature yelp of “Woo!” here and there after a bit, which manages to provide a sense of elation and perhaps victory.
Some in the audience were really moved by Dirty Beaches and the show was definitely a very different experience than anything I’ve caught recently. Zhang’s music is definitely worth exploring if you don’t mind some sometimes intense feedback and you’re looking for something different in noise pop. Unfortunately, you cannot catch Dirty Beaches in concert right away, as he’s flown to Asia after last night’s show to celebrate his dad’s birthday, according to his website. But he’s an intriguing artist worthy of some significant contemplation.