LIVE REVIEW: Public Memory @ Mercury Lounge

I’ve never felt more old or useful than at last night’s Public Memory show. After getting startled by the opening clang of a crash cymbal (who could ever anticipate drums at a rock concert?) and bolting away from the monitors to the back of the room, it dawned on me that I’d forgotten to bring earplugs. Again. Fortunately, I hadn’t forgotten chewing gum, and as I smacked on two pieces of sweet mint Orbit, a little light bulb sparked in my brainnot to be confused with glittering refractions from the overhead disco ball. I scampered to the bathroom, spit out my gum, split it in two, wrapped each piece in toilet paper, and crammed a wad into each ear. I felt like a geriatric MacGyver, who wasn’t capable of saving the world, but could at least protect his own eardrums. Shoddily plugged, I re-entered the venue less frightened, and feeling minty in places I’d never felt minty before.

Public Memory, the project fronted by singer, songwriter, and producer Robert Toher, might have been playing so loud out of celebrationit was their record release party, after all. Demolition, Toher’s third LP as Public Memory, drops November 9 via Felte, and the performance was cloaked in the album’s dark, hallucinatory aesthetic. A veil of lavender light was cast against the stage along with swirling white polka dots. Toher manned keyboard effects, guitar, lead vocals, and occasionally hand-held percussion. I still find it jarring when moody electronic groups bust out the tambourine, but if it’s good enough for Trent Reznor, who can blame them? And there wasn’t just tambo in store: each member of Public Memory’s live band brandished their own maraca, and I could’ve sworn I heard the tinkle of jingle bells.

All ribbing aside, the bells and shakers were joyful addition to Public Memory’s heavy, narcotic soundscapes. Toher’s voice is described as a “spectral tenor” on PM’s Bandcamp page, and rightly so; he elongates his vocals with reverb, often sounding as though he is calling out from a distant room. The words Toher sings are not so much the focus of his songs, but are instead used as their own instruments, floating weightlessly between crisp drums and shrieking synth passages that sound harvested from a horror movie score. The mood was rich, eerie, and commanding. What better way to spend the night before Halloween than at a spooky concert with gum stuck in your ears?