Thursday, May 26, 2011

Converge with Trap Them and Burning Love, 5.25.11

Embarrassing confession: in all the time that I've lived in NYC, averaging at least one show a week, I've somehow never been to a Converge concert. I'm not sure how that happened; certainly, their two landmark albums (When Forever Comes Crashing and Jane Doe) were released while I was here, and I was definitely a Converge fan at that point. But for whatever reason - school work, lack of money, conflicting shows - I just never got to see them. So when this show at Santos was announced I was absolutely resolved that I wouldn't miss them.

The amount of dejected kids who were loitering outside Santos hoping to score an extra ticket vaguely resembled a refugee camp; I've never felt more velvet rope worthy as I sailed past them with my online ticket print-out and got patted down by, count them, 2 female security staff. [Take your time ladies, take your time.]

Psychic Limb were finishing up their set as I walked in; the sheer volume of the band was commendable, but their somewhat unimaginative version of power violence got old quick. The 15 minutes that I caught was still 10 minutes too long.

Burning Love are the essence of this new wave of American Heavy Indie Rock - too indulgent to be a punk band, not savage enough to qualify as metal. They've got the chops, but as singer Chris threw himself around the stage, waded into the crowd to start a moshpit, and crawled over the left side monitors, I wished that I was seeing his old band, the mighty Cursed. Cursed, after all, were way ahead of the curve when it came to bands injecting the Sunlight Studios sound into American hardcore. The Kyuss-meets-Stooges swagger of Burning Love certainly won over most of the crowd, but I'm still reeling at the idea of a Converge/Trap Them/Cursed tour. Tack Black Breath on that bill, and you could get distortion pedal manufacturer Boss to sponsor it. Call it the HM-2 Revival Tour.

Like Converge, Trap Them are a band I've been meaning to see live and somehow never managed to catch (they make reference to their tour supporting Napalm Death back in 2009, where "5 people showed up" - I arrived at that show minutes after they finished playing their set, FML). They make good use of that gnarly Swedish sound, injecting it into their fist-baiting hardcore without sounding overly indebted to it. They're the first band of the night to actually rival the headliners in terms of sheer brutality, and a reminder of what I've been missing the last couple years.

Some bands play in a genre, and some define their genre; Refused may have boasted about being "The Shape of Punk to Come", but Converge embodied it from the beginning, colliding blistering hardcore with Jesus Lizard skronk, and Slayeresque riffs. Fittingly, every band member seems to have been culled from a different type of band - Karl Buechner's flat top haircut and camo pants recall Earth Crisis circa 95, audience shout-alongs and all; bassist Nate Newton whirls around the stage like a heavy metal dervish; drummer Ben Koller looks like a cross between Bruce Dickinson and Henry Rollins circa 1985, grinning like a maniac all the while; and through it all the ever collected Kurt Ballou's serpentine guitar lines tie the chaos together.

The headliners throw themselves with abandon into every chord and every riff, and the crowd's response verges on becoming an indoor riot. Buechner thanks the audience for their enthusiasm, stating "Punk rock and hardcore are a dying art." Which, arguably, is due to a generation of hardcore bands that abandoned the hardcore punk template in favour of slow chunky metal breakdowns and blistering thrash riffs, both of which Converge has been guilty of, if not largely responsible for making popular. But though their music may not fit easily into the old templates, their work ethic and DIY mentality is as punk rock as anything that's been released on Alternative Tentacles or SST.

The foursome transcend any genre that may have influenced them; it's hard to say that they belong more to hardcore than metal, indie, noise rock, etc. More than the sum of their influences, Converge are just Converge. Glad I finally got to see them.