Live Report: Unsane, Cherubs and Plaque Marks at Saint Vitus
review by John Dziuban
Unsane are on tour now supporting their new album ‘Sterilize.’ The tour included Brooklyn shows at Saint Vitus on November 16 and 17. Pictures of night one are in the gallery above and a review of night two follows.
When you sign up to see Unsane at Saint Vitus there are many things you can expect when you pass through that unassuming, unmarked black door and into the dark cave where countless metal bands of all subgenre and stature have haunted, stalked, pillaged, slayed, riffed, raged or any other word that can stand in for ‘played metal.’ A sold out crowd of mostly dudes trending toward middle age, Orange amps and black guitars, disdain for the way things are outside those walls.
Nothing about opening band Plaque Marks’ debut, Anxiety Driven Nervous Worship led me to believe that this mold was going to be broken in any drastic way. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic record whose daring lo-fi aesthetic creates a barrier to entry that one can assume is a pointed weapon to weed out the casual observer. Coming on the heels of the now defunct Fight Amp, who did nothing but get consistently better through endless cycles of touring and recording, Plaque Marks was an exciting prospect whose first record simply delivered the goods, but nothing about it screams “sense of humor.”
When they got on stage in front of a wall of amps that would, a few times throughout their performance trip a breaker, leaving the soundman scrambling to restore power to half the stage, there was an immediate sense that something was a little different than your standard noise rock fare here. Who the hell was the dude in the pink paisley suit and matching marching band hat, standing just off stage with a trumpet? As the view was obscured by a blasting fog machine before the band had played a single note, one was forced to wonder if the aviator frames and pony tails you were seeing on the bass and guitar players were to be taken seriously. I mean, was that guy wearing Rec-Specs? Yes, I believe he was. As they began to rip through tracks from their debut, the vision of the band became clearer, even as the fog got cloudier: Plaque Marks is a fucking funny band, and while they obviously take their music seriously, their live show is meant to be a stark counterpoint to the seriousness of the bands they will be paired with. Their bassist/singer is straight up goofy with giant glasses, dual pony tails and a shit-eating grin that never left his face, even when the aforementioned technical difficulties forced him to abandon his bass and take standalone singing duties. The second time the power dropped out on stage right, the singer/guitarist and drummer kept playing to the conclusion of the song, leading to a joking in death metal voice, “Maybe I don’t need you fuckers after all” of the other band members who were trying to fix the power issues.
Throughout their set, Plaque Marks never broke character; whatever these weird, hilarious characters they’re creating are. The strangeness of the scene was topped off by the dude in the pink suit taking the stage toward the end, seemingly at random, to stab nonsense notes out of his trumpet and leave again. Looking around the room that was filling in as Plaque Marks played, many perplexed faces could be seen in the haze trying to parse out exactly what it was they were watching. Some were willing to take the weird ride, some appeared uncomfortable with going down this road, but if you’d polled the room as the band was finishing, I’d bet no one present would have been opinionless or indifferent to what they’d just seen. Anyone within shooting range of this month-long, cross country trek that Plaque Marks is on with Unsane would be doing themselves a favor by buying a ticket and showing up early.
After such an unexpected, disarming kickoff to the night, you’d expect the show to fall back into expected form, and fall back it did. Austin, TX’s Cherubs are legends of noise rock who’ve been at it in one form or another since 1992, but on this night, they gave the impression of a band that’s not terribly active these days and maybe a little rust is slowing down the gears. Even on the second night of two sold out St Vitus shows, the band veered toward unpolished and sluggish, hitting their notes slightly off the mark. Maybe they merely fell into the unfortunate position of not being the supremely strange and exciting new opener, and not being the seasoned, well-oiled and much-loved local headliner, but still we’re talking about what they were not, rather than what they were and when Cherubs finished and Unsane took over, it was clear who the heavyweights of this night were.
For three completely unassuming dudes in baseball hats, plugging Fenders straight into amps and playing their songs without pretense, to create a palpable aura that hovers over a crowd is a sight to be seen. Unsane know exactly who they are, they know exactly what they’re doing, and they just walk up there and fucking do it. The experience that comes along with being a band that’s been a band in parts of four different decades is an undeniable mark that they wear on their faces. Songs they were writing in the waning days of the Reagan era sound as fresh as their songs of our current, unfortunate Trump era. And maybe all the anger and disillusionment that comes with our political predicament makes it all work even better. The anger of living in a near-dystopia helps those drums kick a little harder. Living in a rattled, broken nation helps the bass shake the guts a little heavier and the Telecaster neck bombs dive a little deeper. As singer Chris Spencer screamed at a level just shy of Matt Pike throat torture, while playing riffs so elemental as to be singable by a crowd, it was impossible not to be overcome by a sense of this music’s heft and importance. For a band that was at the forefront of the creation of a genre in the late 80s to still be so thriving and fertile and functioning at this high of a level is pure defiance of time, age and reason. The fact that this tour comes packaged with one of the newest and most exciting bands of this genre that Unsane helped to create makes attendance to these shows required. They’ll be out their doing this all over our fucked up country for the next month. Go.
photos by Mathieu Bredeau