The Big Pink and A Place to Bury Strangers
Webster Hall, New York, March 30
by Stephen Slaybaugh

There’s something about Webster Hall that reminds me of New York’s yesteryears. True, it has long operated as a concert hall, being the site of the original Ritz before that operation moved uptown and it switched to the current moniker. But there is also something intangible that I especially like, even if I can’t put my finger on it.

Perhaps that nostalgic vibe was instigated last week by the show put on by A Place to Bury Strangers and the Big Pink. The smell of dry ice always make a little wistful, but APBS, who played second on the three-band bill that also included the Blondes, harkened back to a time when irony wasn’t at such a premium and showmanship meant something. With the spotlights at their back, the silhouetted three-piece mounted a sonic attack that put atmosphere and noise at the forefront.

Playing mostly songs from their recent Exploding Head album, APTBS didn’t bother with pleasantries or between song banter, instead continuously divining a sound, which recalled post-punk heydays while still affecting a modern intonation, that enveloped the club like the aforementioned faux fog. It was hard not to be completely absorbed by the band and what they emitted, even if exactly what was going on onstage was a bit hazy. The set reached the first of several apexes midway through with “Deadbeat,” singer Oliver Ackermann calling out “What the fuck?” over a maelstrom of molded distortion and feedback. Two songs later, with “Missing You,” they created a mood equally melancholy and stormy. But as the set neared its conclusion, somewhere around “I Lived My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart,” the band seemed to switch into overdrive, a barrage of strobes accentuating the piercing tremor of their pitched reverie. It was a fitting end to a set, however shortened by their opening role, that made clear they are one for the ages.

But like a Flesh for Lulu to APTBS’ Jesus and Mary Chain, there’s something that, in a live setting, seemed fabricated about the Big Pink. It’s almost like they were trying to hard, with the synchronized collisions of melody and noise coming off about as edgy as an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. Their set, dominated by songs from their recent debut, A Brief History of Love, was similar to that of their openers, with volumized histrionics and plenty of smokescreen, but in their case, it resonated as more style than substance. Their fetching leopard-leotarded drummer could just as well been replaced by a drum machine and had the same effect, while the rest of singer Robbie Furze’s backers had the charisma of studio hacks, which they very well may have been. The processed racket they churned out seemed bedazzled by comparison to APTBS, and even the closing “Dominos,” admittedly a very fine pop song, could do nothing to change the impression that these Brits were just interlopers until the next big stink comes along.