Live: Come Storm The Bell House With Their Survivors' Songs
Come/Eleventh Dream Day
The Bell House
Saturday, April 16
Better than: Reliving the past.
If you suffered through the '90s--for example, if you made it through the dark college-age angst you still associate with Joy Division only to find that getting older just made the hard questions that much harder--Come was the band to pilot you through those longer, darker nights of the soul. The Boston group, fronted by Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw, made four albums of intense blues-rock marked by Zedek's throaty rasp and unsparing lyrics, which seemed to describe romantic devastation done to and by her the night before. The pair's raw and gorgeous guitar work gave brutal traction to the tales. Come were a bit like the Birthday Party without the fancy time signatures, or even the Jesus Lizard with the phantasmagoria swapped out for narratives more easily mapped onto your own scorched emotional landscape. Their music was less about catharsis than surviving; still, watching them back then, pain soaking through Zedek's face like ink, it was hard to imagine how anyone could get up and play such wrenching songs night after night.
It was harder still to imagine how those songs would feel more than 15 years later. I realized leading up to the show that I hadn't pulled out their records in ages; it's not easy music to go back to. As this was the original lineup--Zedek and Brokaw plus the bruising rhythm section, drummer Arthur Johnson and bassist Sean O'Brien--the set list would be confined to the two albums (and associated singles) they made together. Zedek and Brokaw, both of whom maintain solo careers, emerged to cheers and, facing each other, began the guitar duet that opens "Off to One Side" from their first album, Eleven:Eleven. Johnson and O'Brien came out and as the weather thrashed outside, Come proceeded to do the same. They were explosive, perfectly intact, exactly as we had left them (or maybe vice versa). Zedek's eyes pressed shut while she sang, her worn Telecaster bearing the logo of Peter Bagge's famous alt-comic Hate; Brokaw's whammy bar pendulumed through the early single "Fast Piss Blues" as Zedek demanded, "Where ya from? Where ya belong?" They burned through the set--five songs in a row from Eleven:Eleven or earlier to start--and Zedek half-smiled between songs as Brokaw handled the narration and thank-yous. When he introduced the other bandmembers, ending with O'Brien and revealing it was his birthday, it began to seem that Come's fans had changed at least as much as the band. "Whoo, yeah!" one excited woman (possibly a friend of the band) yelled. "Lick it! LICK IT!" She pressed to the stage and O'Brien obliged, letting her paw at his undercarriage. Don't recall that kind of lurid light-heartedness at Come shows!
My one complaint is the omission of their best available song, "Yr Reign," from Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But there was no fault to find with the two-song encore. "We're gonna play you the last song we recorded together," Brokaw explained, " and then the first." The latter, "Car," was a Sub Pop 7-inch that ignited a (now-forgotten) bidding war in 1991; 20 years later, it stands as the first of a career's worth of survivors' songs.
The stoic Eleventh Dream Day --forceful and unflashy in that Chicago-rock way--predate Come and have remained intermittently active, which may be the key to having changed even less than Come. Frontman Rick Rizzo curls his lips when he sings and stalks the stage during his solos; drummer and co-vocalist Janet Beveridge Bean is a first-rate basher, her vocals rising up behind Rizzo's. And tonight's set, though peppered with songs from the new Riot Now!, was just like the 11DD gigs I saw in the '80s and '90s: Halfway through, after hearing a few too many mid-tempo mediocrities, I couldn't remember why I liked the band. By the end of their set, riffs and resolve had piled up and changed the atmosphere; I was up front, gripped by the emotion they'd conjured with veteran skill and sustained pressure.
Critical Bias: I'm quoted on a sticker on the vinyl edition of Brokaw's 2005 album, Incredible Love.
Overheard: Ticket-taker, looking at storm outside: "I'm not sure anyone will be here tonight." Fan: "They'll be here--Come fans are very dedicated... and also, gluttons for punishment."
Random notebook dump: I have never been more rain-soaked upon arriving at a rock show. I got much more drenched getting home.
Come set list
Off to One Side
Fast Piss Blues
Brand New Vein