Live: Fucked Up, JEFF The Brotherhood, And Iceage Sweat It Out
Better than: Seeing Fucked Up at, say, Terminal 5.
After playing the middle slot between two legends of indie in a cavernous Manhattan concert hall this past Thursday, Fucked Up shared Saturday night's bill at the Williamsburg sauna 285 Kent with a couple of ambassadors from punk's next generation. And while the Toronto sextet's name could only be officially added to the bill in the wee hours of Friday morning, the hype surrounding the bill's two younger bands is such that they might have still sold it out on their own.
First up was Iceage, the dark quartet of teenaged Danes who've come to speak for Copenhagen's burgeoning punk scene on the strength of their harbinging debut New Brigade. Iceage's avowed love for hard and heavy music of all eras and creeds came through in their blitzkrieg set most clearly (their references span from late-'70s anti-racist punks Crisis to contemporary, apparently Nazi-leaning black metallers Absurd), while the melodies critics keep highlightingtypically credited, in interviews, to Bruce Springsteenlargely fell by the wayside in favor of intensity. The first half of their brief set inspired little more than stationary headbangs and the odd fistpump, but frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt soon fixed that by doffing his guitar to whip the crowd into a frenzymostly with a collapsible mic stand.
"You're nothing," he deadpanned repeatedly to a crowd member who was, out of either respect or retaliation, then in the process of moving the blood from Rønnenfelt's lip to the rest of his face (via fist transfusion). "Nothing" wound up just about making the set.
Next was JEFF the Brotherhood, a pair of spry young Tennesseans. Though Jake Orrall (guitar, vocals) and brother-drummer Jammin have been making music as JEFF since junior high circa 2001, they've been hitting their stride this year with a live LP on Jack White's Third Man label, their latest studio album (We Are the Champions), and a forever-practiced and -improving live show (Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham later took a moment from Fucked Up's set to remark upon the strides the Orralls have made since he first saw them five months ago). And while Champions and 2009's Heavy Days benefit from an expanding arsenal that includes synths, vocal harmonies, dueling solos and sitar, JEFF's lethal mix of Ramones riffs and Skynyrd solos was played on nothing more than a barebones kit and a three-stringed guitar. Jake arpeggiated briefly for the psychedelic breather "Diamond Way," but other than that, the two kept it relentless.
Of course, where JEFF hail from musically is as far removed from NYC as it is by interstate. Jake repped a Hooters tee notable for bearing the name of Murfreesboro, the podunk college town that has marked the weird center of Middle Tennessee's surprisingly nebulous indie rock universe since the early '90s. But considering he and Jamin play here more often than some locals do, it's little surprise that they're growing comfortable fast. At a particularly clammy juncture, Jake lit up: "Smells like Nashville in here!"
Given Iceage's deference to the Boss, and JEFF's affinity for stadium-sized shredding, Fucked Up probably weren't the only band in the room ever to fancy the idea of playing an arenabut given this year's tremendous rock opera David Comes to Life (and its equally great and ambitious sister compilation of imaginary bands, David's Town), they remain the only ones to deserve it. Amidst a tri-guitar wall of sound, Abraham's coarsening bark, and Jonah Falco's cyclonic drums, the deafening mass that resulted was a reminder that this band could benefit from stretching out in a venue like... well, Terminal 5. Even though the acoustics there can be crap in their own way, I'm sure it was at least possible to make out bassist Sandy Miranda's lovely backing vocals on Thursday night.
But at the same time, while Fucked Up can fill the stage just as ably as their Canadian brethren in outsized groups like Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, they also worked well given 285's cluttered sound and cramped space. Guitarists Mike Haliechuk, Josh Zucker and Ben Cook sweated generously on the crowd (who had plenty of their own to go 'round by Iceage's third song), while Abraham cavorted his way through, offering the microphone to any nearby fan to scream a line (always obliged), lifting the lucky few into WWE strangleholds, and cementing his place as the people's champ by distributing Poland Spring to the audience all night. Above all else, the way in which the music blurred into one great visceral surge at such close range (and in such malarial heat) allowed the performance to achieve a kind of perfection that a more professional setup would've parsed and diminished. The gig at 285 Kent wasn't just a Comes to Life victory lap, but the way this band is meant to be seen.
Critical bias: My status as punk rock rookie bitch was evidenced not only by my left-of-the-pit vantage point, but also by the fact that I may very well have grooved a bit more to the Marvin and Stevie on the PA in between sets than to what was being played during them.
Overheard: "The best part about these things is that they aren't gay." (Guess dude didn't get the memo.)
Random notebook dump: In an attempt to later reconstruct JEFF's setlist, I jotted down the riffs and what few words I could make out as best I could for later verification: "dadadaDUH, dadadaDUH...nuhnuhnuhhh (the bassy feedback one)...'U Got the Look!'"
Count Me In
JEFF the Brotherhood setlist
U Got the Look
Fucked Up setlist
The piece of paper I swiped from Miranda's place onstage after they finished wound up being a lyric sheet for "Queen of Hearts." The set list was similar to this one, in any case.