Live: Getting Lost in the Death By Audio Maze With the Coathangers

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Nate Dorr
The Coathangers' drummer: now with blonde hair!

The Coathangers
Part of the "You are Here A/K/A the Maze" series
Death by Audio
Tuesday, September 29

"If this place caught fire, it would be Great White part two," says my friend matter of factly. Thanks, dude. We're lost in this maze installation ("with actual dead ends!" this space actually bragged) and I'm losing my mind in this thing. Rounding every corner is more disembodied art and crawlspaces to toke up, provided you haven't already before entering this weirdly-lit labyrinth where people are building model ships out of sticks and styrofoam rafts. Come to think of it, I don't know what the Coathangers look like. Everyone in sight is dressed like Yeasayer; some Marnie Stern/Deerhoof sounding-duo is making noises. Could that be the Coathangers? Their publicist mentioned their bassist is absent with family emergency tonight, so the band "might do something improvised." Do the Coathangers have a guy drummer? Whoever is playing introduces songs called "Jodeci" and "The End of Fitness" that bleed into one another. Nah, it's way too early in the night to be the Coathangers. One thing is certain: no one knows the names of any of the bands they're watching right now. "Um, I think that's High Society," one door manager says, unsure.

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As the night progresses, the double-stage setup-one band at either end of the installation-functions like the two sides of a magnet, repellant with the feedback-swollen primal scream therapy of the real High Society at one end and relieved by the digestibly Ramones-indebted X-Ray Eyeballs at the opposite. Both compel the crowd of eavesdroppers to float aimlessly one way or another. The Eyeballs signal hope for this endless, despairing room by standing on their amps, with one guitarist sitting atop a maze wall. Wanting to be found. Their catchy two-chord vamps matching.

Almost immediately after X-Ray Eyeballs unplug, the Coathangers kick up across the venue. Two brunettes and two blondes begin beating the shit out of whatever's in hand, taking vocal turns on one brief Delta 5/LiLiPut/Le Tigre no-wave tantrum after another. Squeaky "leader" Julia Kugel's especially shrieky, her rectangular specs sliding down her nose. Keyboardist Candice Jones sports rabbit ears of aluminum foil. A setlist appears to be scrawled on the ceiling. Drummer Stephanie Luke takes at least one memorable singing turn. Live, her double-shift drumming/tambourining isn't cheated out of its thudding uneasiness like it is on their thinly self-recorded albums. Friends help out: tour manager Emily Luke didn't just fill in on bass-she sang a line herself near the end.

They don't do "Dreamboat," their only song to date that could be accused of having a melody, yet the headlong mock cheerleader-chants they do do appear hooky nonetheless, without catering to anything outside their own barely-held-together logic. Especially the hiccupy "Killdozer," which is as off-kilter and excitable as any Gang of Four, and "143," with its frenzied "I love you!"s. Two feet from me, A Place to Bury Strangers frontman (and Death by Audio founder) Oliver Ackermann beams approvingly. The ladies onstage scream "Arthritis Sux."


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