by Joel Greatbatch
Photos by Andrew DeThomas
Red Bull are undoubtedly one of the most proficient marketers in the world, building up their brand with hip community-oriented initiatives like Sound Select, which helps artists through a development program that can assist record labels in curating their own chosen signings. So it was exciting to visit Barracuda last Thursday knowing I’d not only be watching a bill of quality artists, but that they are also selected by tastemakers of the music industry, like the new Transmission successor Margin Walker.
The first offering of the night was local boys BLXPLTN, a punk/industrial/electro outfit that are traditionally a two piece but had Alton Jenkins from Future Death smashing away on the drums to accompany the band’s finely tuned electronic drum pads. But before this combo would unleash there was intro music like no other; the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme built to a crescendo as ascending fuzz noises helped start the set with a brazen punch. It was quite the sound to have TasZ’s industrial drum pads combine with Jenkins’ more traditional acoustic drums, and with Jonathan Horstmann upfront dextrously jumping between his guitar and dirty synth stabs it was like hearing a five piece Nine Inch Nails in relation to what these three were generating.
As is the scenario with most opening bands of the night the crowd weren’t as numerous as hoped. It’s a large room so it can make an audience seem a little sparse, but the response from each in the venue was sincerely rapturous and resonant with the high pitched howls and whistles when a song concluded. Bringing the short set to a close they had the crowd grooving, moving and head nodding to the singles “Start Fires” and “Auf Wiedersehen,” followed by their thanks to their appreciative company and highly recommending the band to follow.
And it was a well deserved recommendation as when In The Whale stepped on stage there was certainly no mucking around. They blasted every inch of the venue with the simple combination of a blazing guitar and punishing drums. The guitarist/vocalist even ripped out riffs with his head above the kick drum where he risked the very real possibility of his drumming companion hitting his head while attacking the snare and cymbals. When this beast of an intro song abated it was if it was the end of the event and you wouldn’t be surprised if they said “Goodnight everybody!”
In the Whale play their blend of hard rock with an unpassable confidence. And this was not a one frontman show but featured both contributing equal amounts of vocals and crowd interaction in which the two performed together as one. There were mixes of sludgy riffs, quick fire rock and mic shredding screams before getting the crowd clapping along. Once again, while there probably weren’t the crowd numbers to support such flair after their epic journey (they had flown from Detroit and were heading back in the morning) it was still appreciated with much applause and dedication from those who enjoyed engaging with them.
To then have The Ponys conclude the event was something special as the group were a Chicago band of some distinction and history. Their last full album was in 2007 and tonight was only their second show since 2010. The previous show was back in Chicago and Austin was the favoured venue to next share their indefinite reunion. Though it was just four of them that graced the stage it seemed like a crowded platform after their minimal predecessors. It was now that more of a dedicated crowd had arrived and a rare performance from a band that seemingly “split up” might have been the draw.
After a night of full on energy and intensity The Ponys were of a different breed when they began their performance. But comparisons with the earlier bands quickly ended with their large sound and encompassing volume assisted by the night’s only bass player providing a fine sounding floor for her band to rest on. Not all songs followed the same format, but the general feel was a set groove that would lock in from the bass and drums and continue to do so for a length of time while the guitars repeatedly chimed upon them. It would become hypnotic and had the throng in front of them slowly swaying and one dedicated fan persistently pumping his fist in the air.
Lyrics weren’t easy to pick up as frontman Jered Gummere’s voice became just a bellowing boom joining in with the rest of the commotion. And there didn’t feel to be as much engagement with the crowd as when he spoke it was often competing with some form of guitar sound in the background. But where things felt most secure was how they could clasp that which was working, be it shoegazing noise or almost Britpop sounding compositions, all well managed to keep you consistently hooked.
As they wrapped the whole night up you could tell those who witnessed them were grateful to be a part of something they thought they might not ever hear. And hear is something hoped you could still do once you stepped outside after a night of strong volume; but no doubt all were grateful for having the benefit of catching the quality acts that Red Bull’s Sound Select generously promoted.
You can check out the rest of Andrew’s photos from the evening here.
Joel Greatbatch is a Kiwi, but please don’t eat him.