Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Haley Williams

METZ at Smiling Buddha – 6/22/14 (Review, Photos, Video)

METZ XXVII

The last full bill to get taken in during the Toronto trip wasn’t part of a festival but it was at the venue that housed several of the best NXNE shows: Smiling Buddha. Up to bat for the all-ages isolated bill this time around was Pleasure Leftists, Holy Fuck, and noise-punk titans METZ. Pleasure Leftists had already torn apart Soybomb HQ the night before, in what was easily the most stacked non-festival bill to take place all week and were more than poised to take Smiling Buddha over in the exact same fashion: fearlessly and without pause. Once again, vocalist Haley Morris proved to be as spellbinding as the music pouring out of the cabs behind her. Frantically shifting from side to side, Morris commanded attention and channeled the relative bleakness of the increasingly spectacular songs into something entrancing and indefinable. There’s a certain spirit permeating throughout Pleasure Leftists’ work and presentation that so many bands are trying to do but failing miserably in their attempts. It’s an intangible element and it resonates throughout all of their songs to an absurd degree. Moments of nervousness, dread, tension, fear, anger, and the unknown all get emphasized in one way or another through Pleasure Leftists’ songs and the band, time and time again, manages to find a way to harness it. Both of their performances were unforgettable affairs but the masterfully mixed levels at Smiling Buddha put their second performance just a notch above the first. Both outings proved that the band has found the perfect balancing point between the graceful and the intimidating. Both times it was extraordinary.

Toronto noise/electronic/experimental trio Holy Fuck graced the stage after Pleasure Leftists’ set left a few more uninitiated attendees completely stunned. If there was any trepidation over how well Holy Fuck’s set, a relative outlier, the band eased those doubts within a few songs. Being one of the few acts playing their brand of music to feature live drums on a full drumkit worked out to the band’s advantage in more ways than one. Did it make them a more suitable fit for the bill? Yes. Absolutely. Was it beneficial during the band’s early sound problems? Undoubtedly. Each member of the trio attacked their instruments with unbridled passion, clearly loving every moment of their time on stage. While the drums were being pounded into oblivion, both multi-instrumentalists set about utilizing everything in their arsenal to its maximum potential. Their audience ate it up; people were headbanging, dancing, and attempting to project as much energy onto the band as the band was projecting onto them. What some assumed would be an unmitigated booking disaster instead wound up presenting a clearly-loved contrast (or reprieve) from the moodiness exhibited by both Pleasure Leftists and METZ. Holy Fuck kept things going for as long as they could, smiling all the way through. At set’s end, they were all drenched in sweat, still smiling, and looking at an entire venue smiling right back at them.

After delivering an insane set last year in a very small room of an arts center in Champaign-Urbana, IL as part of the Pygmalion Festival, expectations were considerably lofty for METZ- especially considering the fact they were playing to a hometown crowd. They didn’t disappoint. They didn’t even come close. METZ didn’t even manage to make it through their first few songs before the crowd had tipped over into verging-on-volatile, killing the stage flood lights completely. Instead of getting hung up on an understandable technical issue, the trio subverted expectations in a way only they can, pleading with the photographers present to use their brightest flashes to create a natural strobe light effect. All of them obliged. What followed from that point forward was an exercise in endurance for both the audience, a constantly shifting heaving mass of bodies, and the band themselves, who each managed to turn their clothes a few shades darker via profuse, hard-earned, sweat. The band’s self-titled Sub Pop LP is still their defining achievement and most of it was played- but they did manage to throw in a crowd-assisted cover of “Neat Neat Neat” as well as a new song or two, while providing discography balance wherever they could. Audience members were actively encouraged to climb onstage and hang out for a song or two while also being given the standard reminder that “if you see anyone fall down in the pit, pick their ass back up, give them a kiss on the cheek, and keep going”. No one gets hurt at a METZ show and everyone looks out for each other. No matter how much screeching feedback, pure chaos, total noise, and unrelenting darkness there was, it never felt too dangerous. METZ refused to let it get too dangerous, even though they know exactly how to walk right up to the border. That underlying humanism is part of what makes a METZ show feel so enlightening; this is outstanding music being made by genuinely great people- and it’s worthy of being celebrated on all accounts.

Follow the link provided below to see a photo gallery of this show. Beneath that is a video of Pleasure Leftists’ set hitting its stride.

Smiling Buddha: Pleasure Leftists, Holy Fuck, METZ (Photo Gallery)

Perfect Pussy at Soybomb HQ – 6/21/14 (Review, Photos, Video)

Cellphone V

While NXNE provided a lot of the most memorable moments I’ve had so far this year, I’d be completely and totally remiss not to pay special attention to one of the non-festival shows: an absolutely stacked lineup flying under the Summer Melt banner and taking place in the middle of a halfpipe. Originally, the show (heavy on local Toronto acts) was going to be headlined by the Cleveland-based Pleasure Leftists– an incredibly casual last-minute offer allowed Perfect Pussy to step in literally hours beforehand as a secret headliner. To their credit, their secret remained a secret (unlike the Spoon debacle just a night before) and caught several attendees by surprise as they entered the venue (which had set times drawn up on a long sheet of paper and in plain sight). A late arrival meant missing a slew of talented bands including Wrong Hole, Das Rad, Toronto Homicide Squad, Petra Glynt, and Teenanger.

Even five bands in, the night was far from over. It didn’t take long for Cellphone (pictured above) to set up and it took even less time for them to impress. On record, the quartet emphasizes their roughness, eclecticism, and electronic leanings. Live? They explode with a fury worthy of the hardest-hitting bands of STT’s golden age. Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, and (especially) Dinosaur Jr. all came to mind as apparent touchstones during different parts of their set, which stayed rooted in something totally intangible and unique to them. Hardcore influences and progressions cut apart riff-heavy melodicism and the band frequently sounds like they’re on the verge of spiraling out of control. It’s a controlled mania that had more than a few people shoving and dancing as hard as they possibly could by their set’s end. It was one of a very large handful of shows the band played throughout the NXNE dates and the practice showed- the end result was the best set of the trip from a band I’d previously never heard of.

Toronto’s Ice Cream may not have had the blinding energy of Cellphone but they certainly weren’t lacking in intrigue. The band’s a very minimalist post-punk act made up of nothing more than vocals, bass, a very occasional guitar, and synth. While they were stealthily making their way through their set (and the bottom of a bottle of liquor), they ran a bubble machine to its dregs. A little more than halfway through their set, a very-probably-inebriated audience member kept trying (and partially succeeding) at getting the bubbles back up and running, as the band played on, relatively amused and unconcerned. Most of their set hinged on bright melodies and pop-leaning basslines but when they deviated away from this, especially towards the end of their set, they found new life and hit new peaks. When their set finally wound down, they’d succeeded in creating an impression while simultaneously leaving the space wide-open for Pleasure Leftists to do just about anything they wanted.

Pleasure Leftists took full advantage of what was essentially a new slate after Ice Cream wound things down. After a string of strong releases on Deranged Records, the Cleveland band was in rare form, which was likely in part to the excessive amount of touring they’ve been doing lately. They’ve sharpened their brand of brooding post-punk and the fangs  that they’ve grown along with it. While the whole band is incredibly formidable in their respective roles and fully capable of creating towering soundscapes of tension-filled dread, vocalist Haley Morris still stands out. Onstage, Morris is a force to be reckoned with; a constant- and constantly expressive- larger-than-life presence. Pouring an endless supply of nervous energy and pure feeling into her delivery, Morris commands attention so completely that it occasionally runs the risk of losing track of what’s happening around her- don’t make that mistake. Pleasure Leftists’ instrumentalists are so well-versed in post-punk that on first listen someone could easily mistake them for a long-lost 70’s UK band that split small club bills with Warsaw. Their set was everything anyone could hope for and was rousing enough to leave the audience absolutely stunned. Everything that Pleasure Leftists are currently doing is clicking so neatly into place that it’s impossible to expect their trajectory to stabilize in anything other than ascension.

Finally, at a time roughly between 3:00 and 3:30 A.M., Perfect Pussy had set up and was off with their usual intensity. It’s no secret how I feel about this band and this won’t be the last time I write about them- or come even remotely close. I have made my feelings about them very public on multiple occasions and will continue to do so- because they are firmly rooted in all of the ethos that I believe in. Morality, integrity, independence, acceptance, and a commitment to DIY are all present in both their music and their interview. Vocalist Meredith Graves, in particular, has been very vocal about things that people need to start being more vocal about (and almost all of them are extensions of basic human kindness, compassion, and empathy). I would probably know next to none of this if I hadn’t been absolutely blown away by their 2013 demo I have lost all desire for feeling and made it a point to get as close to the band, who were making music I loved so fiercely and championing ideals I so firmly believed in, as I possibly could. It’s been a downright honor to watch the public interest in them skyrocket since the release of that demo and when Say Yes to Love came out, it made them feel revelatory all over again.

As with any band experiencing success, this meant seeing the venues housing them gradually grow- and the tickets fly much faster than they used to. So, when Graves pulled me aside after their Great Hall appearance for a beer at a Toronto bar to catch up and explain the events of the previous night, I was already on a barely-contained adrenaline rush. When we were interrupted by a guy offering to add Perfect Pussy onto an already-stacked bill that was being topped by Pleasure Leftists in a halfpipe in the middle of the night, all I could do was look at a noticeably excited Graves and hope she’d say yes. After all the details got figured out, it became evident fairly quickly that this was probably going to be the show that I remembered most from the Toronto stay. A band I’d loved and been chomping at the bit to see for the longest time (Pleasure Leftists) playing in a small, DIY space with who is arguably my favorite band of the moment playing after them as a secret headliner? With local support to top everything off, it seemed fail-proof. It was. Even though the late slot meant playing to an exhausted/subdued crowd, when Perfect Pussy tore into their set, it finally felt like they were at home. It was the exact kind of space that the band has fostered mutually symbiotic relationships with- even as their stature would suggest they’ve outgrown them.

It felt like a subtle, extraordinary moment and it was a privilege to be there to witness something like that happen. Even though the band’s set was abbreviated (even for them), it still hit with the force of an all-out military strike and the band laid just about everything they had on the line. Drummer Garrett Koloski was simultaneously battling to keep his kit upright and continuing to beat the living shit out of it- bassist Greg Ambler was tapping into an inward violence- guitarist Ray McAndrew was thrashing about more spiritedly than ever- synth/noise artist Shaun Sutkus was tucked away in the back, occasionally letting the music move him into making frantic body motions- and vocalist Meredith Graves (easily one of the finest bad leaders that this generation’s produced) commanding as much attention as humanly possible without being consumed by the din around her. All of the songs they played that evening were initially written down on a sheet of paper, cut into ribbons, and placed in a hat where the setlist was drawn out of- with the exception of one, which McAndrew took it upon himself to launch into, without warning, adding an element of surprise for both the audience and his bandmates. That moment was the only sly sidestep in an otherwise pulverizing, straightforward set that re-confirmed Perfect Pussy as one of the most entertaining live bands currently playing shows. By the time “Advance Upon the Real” wound down into Sutkus’ noise epilogue, they’d provided the evening with enough punch and verve to ensure that it wouldn’t be an evening that anyone who was present for it forget about it anytime soon. It didn’t feel like they’d officially arrived; it felt like they’d arrived home.

The photo gallery of this show can be accessed by clicking the link below. Beneath that link is a video of Perfect Pussy ending their set with “Advance Upon the Real”.

Soybomb HQ (Photo Gallery)