Do I need to introduce Lightning Bolt? Probably not. Or maybe just a little bit, in case you don’t know them. Well, then, here are the basics: Lightning Bolt are two guys from Providence, Rhode Island. They have been around as a band since 1994. Brian Chippendale plays drums and does the vocals, Brian Gibson plays bass. In addition to their instruments, they use a myriad of effects. They are very fond of distortion. Sound and performance wise, they really are a league of their own, but for the sake of orientation let’s call their music experimental noise rock borrowing from free jazz. There. Got an idea now? Describing what they do is nowhere near to hearing them, and hearing is nothing like seeing. So, if you really have no idea who they are, you might want to watch the video to their song Dracula Mountain. You won’t regret it.
When I first came across Lightning Bolt, I was gob-smacked. I had never heard or seen anything quite like them before. And ever since I’ve come across them, I wanted to see them perform live. So far, I haven’t had the chance. Therefore, when I saw the show announced, I marked the day in my calendar. Apparently, I was not the only one who did that: Zagreb’s Mochvara (swamp) was packed.
Lightning Bolt started their show around the announced time and without much introduction. At first, I was a bit disappointed, because the band played on the stage, and not on the floor, surrounded by the audience, as is their custom – or at least it has been. Playing on the floor is part of the anti-elitism that characterizes the band’s approach to music, and I like that approach a lot. But in hindsight there really was no reason to be disappointed, the show was excellent nevertheless.
The noise attack was instant and on at full blast. I reckon that anyone without ear plugs will have had his/her ears ringing for quite some time. The crowd started moving and jumping around right from the start and did not stop doing so until the end of the show. Once I had fought my way to the front and positioned myself in front of drummer Brian Chippendale, I got a good look at his characteristic mask. The band’s music is crazy enough on its own, but Brian’s mask adds an additional edge and also hides the microphone through which he “sings”. The mask is patched together from rags and looks like a kid did the job. You can imagine it like a collage of different horror film masks: Let’s say Michael Myers and scary clown melted into one persona. The vocals come out of the mic distorted and enhanced with an echo effect, or to put it bluntly: you can’t understand a word.
I don’t know the band’s compositions apart, and I’m not going to pretend that I do. But the set list is really not all that important. The band’s live-performance as a whole is incredible. That’s the case because of its energy and its intensity, not because of certain compositions. The amazing thing about their shows is that the audience gets infected by the music and the energy. Although I have certainly been to more shows than the average person, I really can’t remember the last time I’ve been to one where an hour and a half passes like fifteen minutes. I also can’t remember when I last saw half the audience move to the music.
The noise-duo didn’t talk much. They rarely took a break from making noise. The only thing Brian Chippendale talked about a bit longer was being a new dad. He said that he felt that his flesh is getting weaker by the day, while the mother literally was being eaten away by the baby. Having breastfed two kids, I can attest to that. I got the impression, that while his new role was constantly on his mind, his drumming performance was somehow cathartic and had a therapeutic effect, serving as a counterpart to the demanding and life-altering job of being a parent. I can relate to that too, and I liked very much that he shared part of his experience with the audience.
While Brian the drummer is the bands motor, Brian the bassist provides stability and is somewhat of a stoic presence on stage. Together, they are perfectly balanced. I spent the most part of the show in front of the drummer, because I really like good drumming. Although I’m no expert on that topic, I’ll venture to say that Brian Chippendale is one of the best drummers around. His speed and coordination are unbelievable, also his physical fitness. It’s very demanding physically to play the way he does. So while the noise duo has gotten older, they haven’t lost in intensity. Not one bit.
Visibly exhausted, with sweat dripping from them, the band got off stage. But the crowd didn’t want to go home just yet and kept cheering for them to come back. And they did. The encore was nothing less intense then the rest of the show.
We don’t rate shows here, but if we did, I’d give this one the full score. 10/10. If you get the chance to see Lightning Bolt perform live, you really should go and see them. You’ll be glad you did.
(Review and photos Slavica)