It seemed more than a bit curious that, by the time of my relatively early arrival at El Rey Theatre for The Big Pink and A Place to Bury Strangers' gig, the only standing spaces available were in the front of the venue. As anyone who has ever been to a general admission event will tell you, the front fills up first, oftentimes within minutes of the doors opening. But, when A Place to Bury Strangers hit the stage, the reason for the amount of room on the front sidelines of the venue became clear. This New York band is so monstrously loud that it seemed odd that they were sandwiched inside the line-up for the evening.
APTBS' set was an endurance test. A handful of people in the front section attempted to dance with hands cupping their ears before wandering further away from the speakers. The quick press of a hand against a wall would unleash a wave of vibrations fierce enough to shake bones and there were more than a few moments when my pant legs began to dance despite the fact that I was standing still.
Loud can be exhilarating. It can reaffirm your passion for music. In this case, though, loud was just that. It's almost as though the volume, and not the band, took center stage. APTBS has a great rhythm section, but the further one moved away from the wall, the more difficult it became to detect the bassline. Oftentimes, the end result was muddied, save for a sharp, electronic chainsaw noise that would come slicing through the crowd. In some respects, it did seem as though the nuances of APTBS' recorded work were lost in the live setting.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons why loud might not work, including the acoustics of the venue and sound systems. Last night at the Miracle Mile venue, sound didn't seem to be working to anyone's advantage. Openers Active Child seemed unnaturally distorted at points in the performance. The DJ sets felt overpowering. And, by the time The Big Pink went on stage, it became difficult to hear anything. Maybe shows should be organized with the loudest band last.
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