We should just get it out of the way; Ulcerate’s first night in New York (May 19) ended badly. Per the Facebook post left by the band on Sunday, the morning after they played at Brooklyn’s Public Assembly with France’s Svart Crown and NYC’s own Tombs, some asshole or assholes broke into their tour van, making off with gear, drum equipment, merch, and even Ulcerate’s stage banner. Not much else to say, besides that I’m embarrassed and ashamed that these New Zealanders couldn’t get two nights into their first tour of our country without getting their shit stolen. You’re swell, America.
But lest we start getting too down on things, I can testify that the band did not disappoint in their first ever NYC show, the second stop on their all-too-brief North American tour. Opening the night was Svart Crown, also playing in the States for the first time. The band came out with a fury and spent the first half of their set fighting one foe: the empty space between the stage and the still-sparse crowd. Although the band shouted and threw their fists and beckoned the audience forward, the energy in the crowd never quite matched the energy in Svart Crown’s riffs. But the band showed no fear, playing their strutting death metal and providing an energetic performance.
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Tombs were up next, and the room started to fill up. The band brought as much intensity as Svart Crown had, but were less concerned about bringing the audience along. Which didn’t ultimately matter, as we were willing to follow regardless. Anchored by the stoic Mike Hill, the band’s performance brought out the hardcore and sludge influences in their recorded material. A more knowledgeable Tombs fan might be able to tell you in detail about their song selection, but all I can say is they pulled a fair bit from 2011’s Path of Totality. In the end, many in the audience would have been happy to see Tombs headline; so having the opportunity to see Ulcerate 15 minutes later only sweetened the deal.
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In truth, the room wasn’t quite filled by the time that Ulcerate got on stage. But partway through their opening track “Burning Skies”, as the band collapsed into one of their patented quiet sections, a cheer rose in the room, a simple expression of the crowd’s appreciation. The set relied heavily on The Destroyers of All, but didn’t completely ignore older material, closing out with “Everything is Fire” and featuring at least one song from Of Fracture and Failure.
They managed to put on a good performance, too. If you’ve heard drummer Jamie Saint Merat on record then you know that he’s capable of some pretty impressive technical feats, but in the live setting, I was most taken by his economy of movement. As he speeds back and forth across his fairly large kit, he hardly moves his body at all, much less flails his arms around like a typical metal drummer. In a word: focus. Guitarist Michael Hoggard embodied that same focus, sometimes breaking into a pretty idiosyncratic head-bang: slow-motion, using his whole body and making a wide arc. But when everyone in your band is bald, you’ve got to be creative.
Of course, the set wasn’t perfect. There was no way that they could recreate all the subtleties of their records in the live setting (particularly during the quiet sections), and there were times when they crammed just a bit too much sound through Public Assembly’s speakers. But they delivered a solid performance regardless, and I can only hope to have the opportunity to watch them hone their craft again.
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