Returning to the Ritual: King Woman and Dreamcrusher at Saint Vitus Bar (Live Report)
Saint Vitus in Greenpoint, Brooklyn remodeled over lockdown. The bathrooms form a hallway from green room to stage, which is drenched in red and blue lights like a nineties film. Dried roses hang from the stained glass false skylight. Signed albums share a shelf with crucifixes. The first show I saw at Saint Vitus after lockdown was an all-local revue with Hustler, Dog Breathe and Blu Anxxiety. The second was for the Dreamcrusher and King Woman double bill last Friday, October 15th.
King Woman and Dreamcrusher at Saint Vitus
Dreamcrusher is a project developed entirely by the noise musician Luwayne Glass. At nine they climbed on stage, gave everyone a big grin and two thumbs up—and the lights went out.
Dreamcrusher shows are actively antagonistic to people trying to document them. A distorted intro track played as Glass lit incense with their back to the audience, visible in silhouette by the red glow of frankincense and palo santo. Cameras converged to try to capture the moment. Glass waved the incense over our heads as they waited for the room to fill up with dry ice. A blinking strobe disappeared into the fog.
Without outside light, surrounded by incense, fog and noise, a Dreamcrusher show becomes a self-contained universe. We were engulfed in Dreamcrusher, smothered like a blanket.
Glass screamed into a microphone with a flashlight attachment. It was like they punched through the dark to speak to us, their dreads hanging over the light like a star in their hands. At each strobe I caught a frozen image of Dreamcrusher in movement, head thrown back, arms at their sides.
A chopped-up ballroom song played as the flashlight on their mic swung through the crowd, creating streaks of light and dark, dark and light. Glass climbed off the stage and ploughed through the audience, screaming and swinging.
From a technical perspective, King Woman and Dreamcrusher are a weird blend of genres. While both are hard to define, they're usually aligned with melodic metal and noise, respectively. King Woman is a much more technical performance that draws from alternative rock as much from the blues and metal. Meanwhile, Dreamcrusher came up in DIY punk, hardcore, dance and house spaces. A little of everything exists in their music. Both acts have extremely different composition styles, but what united them were warm walls of sound. Dreamcrusher may have a faster beat, but both linger on a measure to force the audience to feel it until the nerve aches. Dreamcrusher and King Woman both compose music that fits a tender intersection between trauma and exaltation. I have heard both described as music that sounds like it is in the middle of an act of creation, like every time a song is played it builds something in the air.
Asking around, it seemed like most of the audience were aware of both acts, but slanted more to one or the other. The majority of the crowd seemed to be there for King Woman, and the general consensus seemed to be that the most recent album, Celestial Blues, set Kris Esfandiari on a new platform of visibility.
A couple said they felt like Dreamcrusher traded a sweaty, punch drunk basement audience for a crowd of buttoned-up over-thirties, but I didn’t attribute the difference with age. Everyone was dressed for a night out, as if no one in the audience came straight from work.
When I listened to the music beforehand the similarities between the two acts seemed obvious, but the division was made especially clear as the house lights came back on. Kris Esfandiari's back-up band climbed onto the stage, followed by Esfandiari herself. She began the performance without any set-up.
King Woman is a much more regimented and practiced ritual. There is none of Glass' egalitarian abandon; King Woman is more like an opera. Esfandiari stands before the audience to showcase a brilliant array of technical skills. She is comfortable taking center stage, performing her role like a priest. Kris Esfandiari describes Celestial Blues as a project borne from exploring her religious trauma. She's discussed growing up in a charismatic Christian church where evil was impossible to engage with, avoided or banished but never examined. Only in adulthood did she find texts to engage with Christianity's mythology of evil. Her song "Morning Star" was directly inspired by John Milton's Paradise Lost, a foundational text for the reclamation of the Devil that inspires so much heavy music. Like Milton, Esfandiari imagines Lucifer as a liberatory figure who questions the established hierarchy of Heaven. Like Glass, the final product reveals a niche.
In the dark, in the smoke, in the noise, someone whispered: "It’s like Saint Marks."
"You mean like home?" Someone replied.
—O F Cieri
Photo Credit: Andrew Hallinan