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Live Report: Ceremony & Nothing @ Sonia

Whispers indicate that things are winding down for Rohnert Park, CA’s Ceremony, for the time being at least. Rumors swirled around the room before the band’s set in Cambridge as part of a brief December tour, stoked by social media posts and a recent essay by frontman Ross Farrar for Talkhouse. “I don’t know what’s ahead for Ceremony,” wrote Farrar, who’s currently pursuing an MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. Academic rigor naturally eats away at one’s time for their genre-bending hardcore band, and that’s not to mention Farrar’s four bandmates, “each doing different things and trying to figure out what to be.” All signs pointed to this pre-Christmas run with Philadelphia shoegazers Nothing being the last we’d hear from Ceremony for some time – an impetus to make these sets count.

Following a short set from New Bedford hardcore crew Brother, an introduction from Santa Claus soundtracked by Travis Scott welcomed Nothing to the stage. Weird, but hardly at odds with the irreverence the band tends to project. Urged on by a small chorus of reverse-hecklers, repeatedly interrupting bandleader Domenic Palermo between songs to extol his virtues, the four-piece roared through a set of their gale-force shoegaze.

True to their genre forebears, Nothing played loud. They put an introspective spin on the harder-charging corners of the Ride and My Bloody Valentine catalogs, but Palermo’s acrobatic stage presence hardly cast him as a stoic Kevin Shields-type up there. The songs blasted forth with kinetic spark to counterbalance Palermo’s dour lyricism. Nothing aren’t in the business of offering up a sound you’ve never heard so much as fine-tuning one you already love, but they do it with enough personality to set them apart from the pack of pedalboard worshippers.

Palermo executed the first stagedive of the night, throwing himself into a pack of adoring fans during Nothing’s final song, but that would of course be far from the last. For the duration of Ceremony’s set-opener “The Understanding,” the resigned last track from 2015’s The L-Shaped Man, one could buy that the band’s post-punk reinvention had really taken hold – that Farrar might keep his shirt on and maintain his icy composure. And then they played “Kersed.” As great an outsider’s rallying cry as any band has ever packed into a one-minute song, its “pack your fist full of hate, take a swing at the world” opening lyric sent bodies flying and illustrated Ceremony’s unpredictable nature with a kick to the head both figurative and literal.

Ceremony’s gradual progression away from ultra-compact bursts of rage toward L-Shaped Man’s Joy Divisionisms has earned them plenty of backlash, but in the end it’s made them a braver, better band. Their set deftly worked the slower, atmospheric material into a performance that maximized the dynamics of tension and release. The L-Shaped songs showcased Farrar’s increasingly reflective writing and the spindly intricacies of Anthony Anzaldo’s guitar work, while paving the way for the punch of “He-God-Has Favored Our Undertakings” or “You’re All the Same” to land that much harder.

Farrar did end the show shirtless after all, dried blood on his forehead, leading the sold-out room in a blazing rendition of “Sick” before delivering a disarmingly heartfelt thanks for Boston’s support over the years. If Ceremony are indeed headed for that probable hiatus or possible breakup, the preceding set demonstrated them going out at the peak of their powers, and leaving us a few bruises to remember them by.

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