At Electric Owl on Thursday, May 22
The guys in Philadelphia’s Nothing and Oakland’s Whirr are more than tourmates, they’re tight homiez who’ve got each other’s backs. Back in March, Whirr took to the Interwebs to call out Pitchfork for what was actually a largely positive review of the latest Nothing album, Guilty of Everything, calling the review’s author, Ian Cohen, a “pussy”.
When Whirr’s own fans, via Facebook, suggested that insulting people isn’t the most diplomatic way to conduct business, the band dug its heels in even deeper, responding to such comments with pithy putdowns like “You’re a fucking idiot” and “Shut up. Next.” It’s the Scene That Celebrates Itself all over again, but with 100 percent more schoolyard insults!
Whirr will probably get butthurt about this review no matter what I say, so I might as well be brutally honest. I wanted to enjoy the band’s performance at Electric Owl, but it just wasn’t doing it for me.
As much as its members come across as juvenile dinks online, I do like Whirr’s music. The group has released some stellar shoegaze songs (see Bandcamp for ample evidence), striking that crucial balance between fragile melody and cavernous noise.
Whirr’s entire set on Thursday night, however, was pretty much an undifferentiated wall of sound. This would have been less of a problem if the singing had been even a little bit audible, but despite the presence of two vocal microphones on the stage, there was nothing coming out of the speakers.
Perhaps, in another of the band’s legend-making provocations, the mikes weren’t even plugged in. (Actually, that would have been brilliant, so I hope it's true.)
Headliner Nothing fared better in the technical department, over all, although Brandon Setta was apparently having some trouble with his guitar amp. At least we could hear his voice, and that of fellow singer-guitarist Domenic Palermo, although both were so lacquered in reverb that any lyrics were obliterated. Not that clarity matters much—I mean, I couldn’t tell you the words to a single My Bloody Valentine song, but that doesn’t make them any less great. Sometimes the medium is the message, to coin a phrase.
Like Whirr, Nothing aimed to create an enveloping whorl of sound, but did so with greater dynamic range, allowing the band’s main selling point—the interplay between Setta and Palermo’s guitar parts—to come to the fore. Hooks were few, but “Get Well”, which chugs along with punkish vigour, stood out from the pack.
Vancouver’s Seven Nines and Tens couldn’t compete with the touring acts when it came to sheer volume, but the quartet proved much harder to pigeonhole. With its time-signature changes and turn-on-a-dime dynamic shifts, Seven Nines and Tens played an impressive set with the discipline of a prog-rock band, but its detuned riffs are black metal by way of Dischord Records, if that makes sense. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to hear it for yourself next time SNAT plays. I hope I'm still alive when that happens.