Live: Willingly Almost Going Deaf at Weekend’s Mercury Lounge Show

04/07/2011 2:31 PM |

Weekends merch list, obviously

Live at Mercury Lounge
Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The force of sound coming from the three guys onstage at Mercury Lounge does not match their outward appearance; amidst a cardigan, button-downs and a polo shirt, the drummer’s long hair is about as severe as it gets. (I’m pretty sure I saw a heart tattooed on the guitarist’s elbow.) Consider these misleading signifiers of the blown-out swirl that Weekend spends the next 45 minutes building out of layers of grating feedback and twisted distortion.

Even stranger, the severity of the all-engulfing sound that the band takes from their excellent debut album, Sports, and translates live does not match the feeling you get watching them perform. On all reasonable counts, the set should be flat-out punishing to the senses and depressing as all get-out: the drowning wails of frontman Shaun Durkan more or less render words indiscernible, there’s immediate Joy Division-like gloom, and — in case you haven’t caught on by now — they play at an unrelenting volume, enough to probably make James Blake cry. But hearing the surge of sound unfold, witnessing what three people are capable of producing, is oddly life-affirming, on the most basic, visceral level.

There is an awful lot of opportunities for the melodies to get lost in the noise, but they never let it happen. Durkan’s bass leads the charge with low, longing strums sitting high in the mix, while Kevin Johnson, who refuses to stay still, rocking his entire body back and forth while the others appear to be in deep concentration on a stage flooded in red light, controls the manipulations of his guitar to make it sound more pummeling than discordant. Together, they’ve got this massive thing going on, but there are so many slight, interesting twists along the way: the gothic undertones of “Monday Morning,” the way the feedback shifts through speakers, moving from stage left to right on “Coma Summer,” the swinging, extended drum solo segueing “End Times” into instrumental monster “Afterimage.” In an interview with BrooklynVegan during SXSW, Johnson mentioned not wearing earplugs during shows because he doesn’t like that they cut out some of the frequencies. It makes sense, with how they pay attention to details. Durkan occasionally pulls a blissed-out-like Panda Bear vocal loop, and one of the new songs has him sounding romantic and sad, not entirely unlike Slumberland labelmate Kip Berman of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. But in the end, two-thirds of the band are on their knees; Durkan on bass, Johnson leaning his entire body weight on one of the floor pedals. It’s really loud, but you leave feeling fully awake.