Hitting Death by Audio on a sleepy Monday night is the sort of real-deal authentic experience fans get wistful for after their favorite bands have scaled the Bowery Presents ladder. Dodgy bathrooms, drooping ceiling tiles, cheap beers, on-top-of-the-band immediacy—DBA’s got the rock n’ roll works. But there’s something to be said for expectation and the urgency it demands. Playing for 20 people in a strictly friends and fellow band members situation may be just a little too comfortable, especially for intriguing young bands in need of real spotlight.
Hunters, a local four-piece consisting of two dudes with Eraserhead hairdos, a bald, hulking drummer, and a vampy, energetic bottle-blond female vocalist, were properly heavy throughout. Peforming on the floor in dark only backlit by the stage’s glow, the band’s sludgy post-punk provided the night’s most alert jolt. Isabel Ibsen and Derek Watson shared vocals, delivered through a single mic. The forced overlap of personal space gave the performance an interesting chemistry, with both heads close and soft like lovers one second, bristling and annoyed like kids in the back seat of a long car ride the next. The band shines more on Ibsen’s star turns; affectively soft and heartbroken when the tar-thick guitars briefly slowed; full of manic, bounding pep waiting for her turn to shriek; rolling on the grungy floor with conviction beyond the necessity of a chill Monday night. Their initial juggernaut momentum sharpened into cleaner song-writing touches as they continued playing, and you suspect they can take it further still. There’s a spark here.
Alps, the one-Australian-man band of visiting Chris Hearn, fell solidly in the tradition of antipodean bedroom acts, meaning to deliver low-key pop with a touch of guitar noise in the vein of hallowed Flying Nun scene from early-80s New Zealand. In practice, it was pretty dreadful. Fiddling on a table overflowing with pedals that provided a pervasive headache squall, Hearn had all the stage presence of an assistant theater tech. When he turned down the squeal knob and focused on sparse, deflated melody it was better, but the overall effect was still amateurish. Let’s just say our Aussie friend had a rough night, and move on.
K-Holes, up last, produce a sort of churning feel-bad music with real physical impact. The saxophone’s rebirth in underground music has been a recent conversation point and seeing Merril Garbus wrap over four thousand fans around her finger last week, with no support but a bassist and dueling saxophonists, gave high-profile proof to the trend. But while yacht rock revisiters use it for gilded smoothness and Tune-Yards lean on brass hits for rich, rhythmic heft, K-Holes go for a continuous, rumbling skronk. Amplified by a distorted mic lost inside the sax’s bell, a cord trailing outward, it’s white noise radiation with the resonance to make your guts feel unsettled at all times. It’s a smart usage, distressing the band’s dark pysch/surf-rock riffs with some real No Wave discomfort. Their set was a bit less fierce than their recent Northside Festival gig, sagging a bit under the room’s low-stakes. But anyone claiming that a return to horns a’ plenty can only mean a victory for soft-focus cheese is still encouraged to hit an upcoming K-Holes gig for brutal, deliberate correction.