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Live Report: Primitive Man, Big|Brave, Elizabeth Colour Wheel in Philly

They’re named after a song by shoegazers Lilys, and there are definitely elements of that in Elizabeth Colour Wheel’s music, but that only tells a small part of the band’s story. In fact, metal fans who have been unable to get into the genre’s swirling guitars might find the Boston troupe to be a good gateway drug, mainly because the guitars slash and burn rather than shimmer and simmer more often than not.

The band’s main appeal no matter what band shirt or hairstyle you might be wearing is vocalist Lane Shi. She contorted herself to the violent shifting sounds with a powerful voice perfectly befitting such avant fare. At the show’s conclusion she was in the crowd, black hair splayed in front of her face, screaming in a manner that would likely impress Mike Patton. It sure impressed me.

A testament to the preceding band’s audacity, Big|Brave seemed positively resolute and staid. If was like Sabbath playing after Zappa (which frankly would have been epic and similar to Saturday night in a microcosmic way). The band’s ominous hum seemed less eccentric in this setting, more conventional — this is remarkable considering Mathieu Bell used a bow to extract eerie buzzing from his guitar, as often as not, while drummer Leon Campbell plodded like an uptempo funeral procession. Big|Brave are hardly hallmarks of your standard drone metal, though the smoke machine filled the room with an apocalyptic pallor lending an appropriate atmosphere of doom to the proceedings.

Even farther away from typical was Robin Wattie. Her vocals range from sweet caress to virulent apoplexy, the only constant being her intensity. She uses her voice as an instrument, fleshing out the sparse minimalism of the band made more so by lacking contrabass and other extra-instrumentation they have dabbled with in the studio. She is not afraid to show vulnerability when the muse strikes her, but mistake that for weakness at your own peril. Big|Brave is serious business and she is not one to be dismissed so easily. Or at all.

On other bills, Primitive Man’s blending of noise, blackened doom, and drone would stand out for the somewhat unique ways they wring more heaviness and volume out of their instruments than a trio should be able to conjure. On this tour, they seemed, well, primitive.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. However, it was so primal (and loud) that the band might have set a record for fastest blown amp: less than a second after plugging in, they left the stage to the shock of the sound engineer (though nobody else assumed anything of it). For those not privy to the situation, it seemed like the band was going offstage for some sort of flamboyant intro; instead of starting the theme to Rocky or whatever, the sound guy just looked confused before finally restarting the house music and running to the stage to get the bad news.

“Man, what a nightmare,” said an exasperated Ethan Lee McCarthy after the band lugged a spare head off the van and set everything up again.

Fortunately Johnny Brenda’s only curfew is when they have to stop selling beer. Also the band’s headlining set ran about 45 minutes. It just seemed twice as long, owing to the band’s harsh ambient doomscape that never broke character or the speed limit but left minds as tattered roadkill all the same. In fact, the set was reminiscent of those early Godflesh forays with Earache package tours except that Godflesh contrasted speedy grind whereas Primitive Man was up against experimental fare. It’s not as mechanical, but just as pummeling, visceral, slovenly, and guttural.

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