Last Night: Pelican, Circa Survive, and Thrice at Revolution

Categories: Concert Review

Pelican, Circa Survive, and Thrice
Revolution, Ft. Lauderdale
Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Better Than: Considering just Thrice’s set – better than the band’s last appearance in South Florida, last December at the Fillmore Miami Beach.

The Review: Alright, I start this review very irritated that it can’t be more detailed about things like set lists, for the simple reason that Revolution’s door staff insisted on systematically confiscating all the ballpoint pens in my purse. Witness this exchange, pathetic on every level:

Me: Seriously?
Bouncer 1: Owner said no pens tonight.
Me: Okay, I’m press though, I’m reviewing the show. I need at least one pen to take notes.. Here’s my business card.
Bouncer 2:You need a press pass.
Me: There are no press passes for this show, because there’s no dedicated press area, and I’m not taking photos either. There are just review tickets.
Bouncer 2:You’ve got to have a press pass to have a pen.

Me:But there are none –
Bouncer 1:The place just got a new paint job. Owner says he doesn’t want kids writing on the walls.
Me: I was here last Monday; there hasn’t been a new paint job since then, and I brought in a pen that time.
Bouncer 1: Sorry, you’ve got to toss them in the box if you want to come in. See? Here are all the other pens we confiscated from everybody.

(Thoughts: Last Monday’s headliner was the industrial-metal assault of Ministry. Does this mean Revolution’s management sees the heart-on-the-sleeve fans of Circa Survive and Thrice as somehow more menacing than Ministry’s bearded, gothy minions? If so, for shame, spooky kids! Step up the creepiness in time for those upcoming Combichrist and Alien Sex Fiend shows!)

This lame back-and-forth wasted a few more precious minutes of Chicago instrumental drone-rockers Pelican, who by only 7:30 were almost done with their night-opening set. Considering Pelican’s fans are generally of the job-holding age, this super-early start time was a raw deal for everyone involved, especially for fans in Miami or Palm Beach. And indeed, most of the crowd that had managed to assemble in time were popcore-looking Circa Survive fans, clearly bored and chattering loudly during the remainder of Pelican’s set. Still, Pelican rallied for the fans who cared, their cycling musical movements spacier and less distorted than on previous outings. As the band seems to have shed much of its earliest heaviness, this textured, pensive live version hunted at where the quartet might wander next.

The appearance, next, of Philly quintet Circa Survive noticeably rallied the audience, with the band playing at first under low purple lights, in front of a painted backdrop of a crumbling Victorian house. It was a gentle, even lovely moment. But then the tempo picked up, and things slid downhill. In a nutshell: There is something incredibly distressing about listening to a bearded man several years past the legal drinking age sing as though he were a 13-year-old boy. Vocalist Anthony Green possesses a wide potential range, but he thoroughly abused it live, sounding as though not only had his gonads inverted, but also traveled upwards to choke him from inside his own throat. It’s not a criticism of his natural voice – this singing style is not his natural voice. It’s a conscious choice, and one that sounds, often, unpleasantly strained. To understand this, one needed only to witness the popping, red jugular of the fellow next to me in the audience as he attempted to sing along to every song.

Too bad, because the music itself, under all that, can have some real prettiness, with shambling, twangy downtuned chords that sometimes recall Nineties indie greats like Built to Spill. Note to aspiring musicians: That nasal whine can be effective when used conservatively, for dramatic effect (see, for one example, the Mars Volta). Used nonstop, it’s just a good plan for ensuring you won’t be singing much into your thirties. Combine all this with a song selection that rarely strays from plodding tempo and keening emotional pitch, and the set is robbed of all chance for real excitement. A line of guys will start quickly slamming shots at the bar, and even your youngest fans will loudly commiserate, post-show, about how you “totally sucked tonight.”

Finally, Thrice. The band just appeared in Miami five months ago, in support of the first two volumes of its four-disc Alchemy Index project. In the warm but cavernous Fillmore Miami Beach auditorium, something about that performance never really gelled. The audience was too far from the band, perhaps, or too unfamiliar with its newer, more experimental material. Here, at Revolution, the excitement in the crowd over the opportunity to catch this 10-year-running band in a smaller venue was nearly tangible. And from the opening raw but controlled chord, there was instant, almost physical relief from all the directly previous navel-gazing. Guitarist/vocalist Dustin Kensrue is a near master of negotiating his voice’s highs and lows comfortably, and his fervent audience was eager to match him note for note on nearly every word. The newer, synth-and sampler-propelled material mixed well in the set with older favorites. And the band threw longtime fans a bone with numbers off its 2003 album The Artist in the Ambulance, like “All That’s Left” and “Silhouette.” The whole thing was … emotive, to be sure. But when the musical and lyrical grays are given as much loving attention as the extremes, the end result is infinitely more satisfying.

Personal Bias: I’m a big fan of Pelican and found their appearance on this bill both perplexing and refreshing. However, they’ve been around several years longer than Circa Survive, and I found it lame that they got stuck at the very beginning, because they boast, say, fewer videos on Fuse.

Random Detail: There was more than one sighting of that very Broward County specimen of rock-club attendee: The folded-bill-fraternity-cap wearer, known for its extreme survival and persistence regardless of aural environment.

By The Way: Regarding my remarks about upcoming shows for the dark set. No, really, Revolution has got a lot to offer this summer for its varying subtribes: Combichrist and the Birthday Massacre (and Mindless Self Indulgence) on May 8, Type O Negative on May 20, Alien Sex Fiend on June 9, and PETER MURPHY!!!!!! on July 5.

-- Arielle Castillo


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