I get migraines, pressure headaches and cluster headaches. The pain can leave me anywhere between delirious but functional to fully catatonic to suicidal. Sometimes I get them because I’ve had too much red wine, sometimes because someone used half a bottle of hairspray in my vicinity. But the surest way to cause me crippling cranial pain is a dramatic change in barometric pressure. You know, the kind of drastic swings that have been happening for the last, oh, four days or so now? The experience, I must admit, has been somewhat unpleasant.
I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the Hard Luck Bar to see Vilipend, the Great Sabatini, and Memories of an Old Man this past Saturday. After the initial railroad spike settled in behind my eyes, the idea of lying on the couch and watching the Food Network was deliciously tempting. Slightly complicating matters, though, is the fact that I share 50-percent of that couch with Christopher J. Gramlich, living as we do in a state of sinful, cohabitational bliss. He lured me out with promises of chicken wings and taking his shirt off on stage. I decided to go, wearing a floor-length, pink pajama-skirt and giving myself permission not to enjoy myself one iota, if necessary.
The show took place in the basement of the Hard Luck Bar, and this was the first time I’d even ventured into the bowels of the venue. There was a burlesque show taking place upstairs, and a chalkboard summed up the evening’s choices of entertainment thusly: one arrow pointed upstairs for “Tits” and another pointed downstairs for “Beards.” We chose beards and headed into the dungeon.
Memories of an Old Man, hailing from Sherbrooke, QC, started the show a little after 10:30 p.m. They bill themselves as “experimental ambient metal,” but that label makes them sound passive and nothing could be further from the truth. Their sound is layered and muscular, twining around itself like the snakes in Medusa’s hair. The energy they project is menacing and monstrous, but in no way repellant. They draw you in and sink their fangs in deep. Their music drones and throbs in a way that almost feels like a hallucination, reverberating somewhere in my brainstem, making everything around me a little unreal. They played under lurid red light, which made their performance seem even more like dream space. They started the night off deep and weird, with resounding success.
By the end of this first set, the air in the room began to change. As the basement filled with people, the heat and humidity increased. The basement of the Hard Luck has some of the worst ventilation ever, so it quickly became both oppressively humid and hot, despite the chill wetness outside. It felt like being inside of a cloud — humidity at 100-precent — but being indoors, it was unable to rain. The pipes running along the ceiling started to drip on the bands, the gear and the audience. The beer I held in my hand was sweating almost as much as the poor guys on stage. Very soon, it would be like attending a show in a sauna.
Undaunted by the heat, the Great Sabatini performed a vicious, complex set. Old tube televisions displayed wavering images of eyes, creating an unpleasant feeling of observation that suited the oppressive, oxygen-sucking atmosphere perfectly. Now, not only were we in a sauna, we were in a panopticon. While their music succeeds handily, in terms of their level of aggression, the triumph of the Great Sabatini is how goddamn skillful this group of musicians are. They are a tight, impeccably rehearsed band that showed up ready to demolish their audience. Their sound alternately grinds and grooves, and they dole out catchy, tangy, Southern-style riffs as easily as the heaving, roiling noise suited to a horror movie soundtrack. I enjoyed their latest EP, Napoleon Sodomite, as much as I was unsettled by it and can’t wait for their next full-length.
By now, there was a quarter-inch of water on the floor, most of the audience was soaked with sweat and mysterious indoor venue dew, and everyone who performed looked like they had jumped into a pool fully clothed. In this atmosphere, struggling to breathe, let alone perform, Vilipend took the stage slightly after midnight. Vilipend treat every single performance that they give as a competition, and they plan on winning. They maintain an absurd rehearsal schedule, which clearly pays off: the level they play at, consistently, is ridiculous. They’re absurdly aggressive but never mindless. Their lyrics are as raw and visceral as their sound while managing to retain poignancy, poetry and subtlety inside the violence. It devastates and delights me every time.
When the members of Vilipend stepped off the stage, human again, they were ready to collapse. Chris Gramlich couldn’t speak. Guitarist Derek Del Vecchio had to give up singing backing vocals in the middle of the set lest he pass out; he looked as white and blue as a drowning victim. As the show disbanded, the audience stumbled up the stairs and out of the venue, gasping. The feeling was this show was something that we all barely survived, and not just because of the heat.
This is one of the shows I am going to remember down to the last, tiniest detail: the lights buzzing and crackling in the damp, someone else’s sweat and hair clinging to the skin of my face, the rapidly warming beer in my hand, weeping. Whether seeing the Great Sabatini and Memories of an Old Man for the first time or Vilipend for the 13th, my impression of each band is now irrevocably tied to their performances on this night.