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Live Report: Harkonen, The Atlas Moth, Fight Amp, Whores

Living in New York comes with a lot of baggage. Fortunately, it comes with benefits, too. The Northside Festival is a recent addition to the roster of benefits.

Now in its third year, Northside is a week-long music and arts festival in the mold of Austin’s South By Southwest. (New York’s CMJ is similar as well, but on a larger scale.) It takes place at bars and clubs in the north Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Though the musical component of this year’s Northside unsurprisingly focused on indie rock, metal and hardcore were well represented: Ceremony, Magrudergrind, Dragged Into Sunlight, Deafheaven, and Mouth of the Architect all participated.

Regional powers met at Friday night’s show at Williamsburg’s Union Pool: Northside itself, Brooklyn Vegan’s Black Bubblegum booking imprint, and Philly’s Brutal Panda Records, who have pressed albums for each band on the bill. Union Pool is not a metal bar, and the bands that played looked unmetal—lots of short hair, little black leather. The bar’s fashionably disheveled regulars blended smoothly with the somewhat less fashionable and more disheveled showgoers.

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Atlanta’s Whores are currently touring on the strength of a single EP, which is available via Bandcamp. Their sludgy rock/metal begs for a small-club show, where you can feel amps as much as hear them. The word “stoney” comes to mind.

Their set did not disappoint. Drummer Travis Owen set up his kit at the front of the stage and proceeded to hog the audience’s attention. He was all showmanship—tossing off stick tricks, hopping out of his seat, howling lyrics, and leering theatrically at the crowd. His flawless wild-man routine paradoxically demonstrated the precision of his control over his body.

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Whores – “Daddy’s Money”

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When I last wrote about New Jersey’s Fight Amp for IO, I said that they don’t come to New York that frequently. I misspoke—this show marks the third time I’ve seen them in the past year. Still, I wish they would play here more often. Their live performances reliably leave mental bruises.

Fight Amp recently announced that they plan to release a new album, Birth Control, this September. The song they played from the recording sounds like more of the same unstable noise rock. That’s fine with me; their atavistic sounds don’t demand much evolution.

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Fight Amp – “Samhain”

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Chicago’s The Atlas Moth was the most metal band on the bill. Their music is less punk and more intricate than any of the other groups’. Tellingly, their lineup features three guitars, while the other three bands have one apiece.

Unfortunately, Union Pool’s sonic profile does not favor intricacy. The delicate layering that defines The Atlas Moth’s music largely disappeared into the murk, obscured by the booming rhythm section. Their simple light show tried manfully to maintain a celestial atmosphere nonetheless.

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The Atlas Moth – “Coffin Varnish”

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Tacoma, Washington’s Harkonen is part of an influential clique of bands that also includes Botch and These Arms Are Snakes. It is no exaggeration to suggest that their catalog likely influenced every other band on the bill. (One audience member acknowledged this influence: “I ripped that riff off! Shamelessly!”) This show marked the reunited Harkonen’s first appearance in New York since their 2005 breakup.

Harkonen’s original career was periodically marred by miscues, and this show involved one. A broken kick pedal led to an long break in the action, precipitating some storytelling from frontman Ben Verellen and an impromptu standup comedy routine from Jesse Madre of the Brooklyn band Tiger Flowers. (The jokes were mostly about sucking dicks.)

But once Harkonen repaired their kit, the music flowed freely. Like Botch, which featured Ben’s brother Dave Verellen, Harkonen can make complex parts sound simple. Chops and musical tricks are means for them, not ends. Many bands, metal and otherwise, would do well to think along the same lines.

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Harkonen – “White Noise”

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— Doug Moore

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