Live: Black Dice Are "Pure Electricity" in Williamsburg
Music Hall of Williamsburg
I have been seeing Black Dice for some six years now, having missed their bloodletting, audience-abusing hardcore days in the early 21st century and their admittedly excruciating early improv-noise experiments. I bore witness to the band during the Beaches & Canyons era, when they were at their apex of popularity and buzz, and also at their purported nadir, circa Creature Comforts, when they cruelly tested the physical limits of their crowds like vivisectionists at a make-up lab.
And yet through every phase and performance, I nevertheless leave each and every Black Dice show with a tactile sense of amnesia, a powerful magnet rubbed across the mental tape banks, a disturbance in the electromagnetic field so profound that it wipes out all metal oxide evidence. That feeling now is no doubt exacerbated by the video projections of Danny Perez, who for all intents and purposes is the fourth member of Black Dice, disorienting the eyes as much as the band does ears with an array of dream machine flicker, moth light, inscrutable visual patterns, and kaleidoscopic smears that have a psilocybic logic to them. It’s a potent combination, and Black Dice embodies psychedelia in its purest form. Earmarks of previous forms of “tripped-out music” such as: distortion, heavy bass, reverb, feedback, slurred voices, delay, white noise frequencies, are all present in their music, freed from quaint tags like electronic, acid, experimental, dub, rock, or noise music. They are all and none of these.
Openers Psychic Ills aim for such a psychedelic state themselves, yet come across as a relic from the Fillmore-daze. Their set opens in near-silence, built up around malleted hand drums. The band, the shortest pair of locks onstage still dangling down to their nipples, aim for some variant on American Indian shamanism: one member crouches low, wagging a stick of incense around the stage, another crouches low but wags small rattles and bells. And then the keyboardist straightens up and opens a black book atop that ancient tribal instrument, the Roland, as if to incant. Once the band gets to rolling though, they lapse into a Jefferson Airplane-Spaceman 3 rut, a grooveless groove.
Black Dice opens with a new song, Eric Copeland doubled over and screaming into a mic, as if the band might revert back to their hardcore days (though thankfully, Copeland doesn’t turn the mic into a front-row mace). The song also boasts the most blatant “guitar” sound of any Dice song in recent memory, yet of course, there is no guitar in sight, just guitarist Bjorn Copeland tinkering in an open flight case bedecked with stickers. (Half the night, his guitar rests atop an amp.) “Roll Up” throws depth charges into its nerve-bundle of twitching highlife guitar lines, while “Scavenger” is rendered with a tone not unlike a rusty oil barrel sawed in half. Throughout the set, Aaron Warren works his rig like an accountant in early April, his left hand a flurry over his sampler’s buttons.
Tonight’s centerpiece is “Kokomo,” whose flummoxing video I re-watched earlier just that day. While that title forever conjures the Beach Boys on that very special episode of Full House, here the Dice make like Brain Wilson circa-1976: huge, unrecognizable, extremely fucked up on pharmaceuticals. For the next twenty minutes or so, the Dice distend and dilate the already inscrutable tune to the furthest extremes, time turning to magma, eyes into aloe vera goop, and brain stems into egg scramble. Deakin—currently on leave from his band Animal Collective (his bandmates out in the deserts of Coachella)—leans over afterwards and tells me that that was “the closest I’ve ever been to being pure electricity,” not a trace of hyperbole in his statement.
Barely coherent at the end of the night, my mind reels as if suffering from yet another memory crash. While glad to have the band in my neighborhood on this night rather than out on the other coast, I’m left to wonder if Black Dice is simply turning down huge festivals like Coachella, Pitchfork, All Points West, Lollapalooza, and All Tomorrow's Parties or (unbelievably enough) not even being offered the chance to erase hundreds of thousands of festival-goers’ frontal lobes. Could they be that forgotten already?