SHOW REVIEW: Iceage, Pharmakon, and Dream Affair @ Home Sweet Home, 1-26-13

LES bar Home Sweet Home is like a lot of other NYC venues, and then again, it isn’t.  I was reminded of a handful of seedy lounges, kooky galleries, and DIY show spaces, but the reality is that Home Sweet Home takes elements of each and rolls them into something completely immersive.  From the moment I showed ID to security outside, I felt I was being led back to parts of myself I’d forgotten, as if through a maze.  I felt the way I used to feel about going to shows at Glasslands or 285 before the magic of those places became almost commonplace to me.  Maybe I’ve been somewhat jaded about show-going in NYC.  Though I live in a city where beautiful and amazing musical events happen every day and am so, so lucky in that regard, it can feel a little rote when it’s something you do constantly.  There’s no one identifiable reason Home Sweet Home felt like a breath of fresh air, but there are lots of equally inspiring aspects and moments that awed me over and over.

I had to get a ticket from the box office, located upstairs in the Fig. 19 gallery space acting as offshoot of Envoy Enterprises.  Rather than a simple stamp on the hand, the lady in the booth offered me a gorgeous hand-numbered screen-printed ticket specifically designed for the event.

iceageticket

 

The gallery show was curated by Iceage members and featured an eclectic array of pieces, including zines from Adam Rossiter, drawings and paintings from Screaming Female’s Marissa Paternoster, intricate black and white ink drawings from Genesis Crespo, illustrations from Alexander Heir, the chaotic sketches of Sam Ryser, photos from Nina Hartmann and Cali Dewitt and everything in between, from screen-printed t-shirts to video projections.  Though the media was varied, the air and attitude was consistent – one of discontent, alienation, and attraction to decay, all themes that run common to the bands that played downstairs.

It’s a little bit strange, I think, to know you can be soothed by a line-up that includes goth punk, harsh noise, and hardcore.  It could be indicative of the mental distress I was in prior to attendance, but even if my headspace was questionable the quality of the performances was not.  Dream Affair were first, a Brooklyn-based trio of disaffected kids who look too young to have the kind of post punk and cold wave reference points that clearly inform their music.  Their youthful appearance is misleading in that way, because Dream Affair pull off those sounds with unrivaled authenticity, the sound more fleshed out and visceral in a live setting than the somewhat hollow approach on 2011’s Endless Days.  Hayden Payne delivers deep-voiced vocals with a healthy dose of sneering vitriol, backed on stoic bass by Bryan Spoltore.  But it’s the addition of Abby Echiverri that provides the band’s most compelling sounds; her squalling synths and backup shrieking are essential, but when she pulled out an electric violin it launched Dream Affair into a whole other realm for me.

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Dream Affair.
Dream Affair.

It took a while for Margaret Chardiet to set up her various pedals, electronic gadgets, and other blinking things with gobs of knobs.  But these are the instruments of choice for her Pharmakon project, in which this tiny, unassuming Chloe-Sevigny look-alike with silken blonde locks becomes a feral howling creature possessed by something demonic.

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Pharmakon.
Pharmakon.

The demons came out before she even started, as technical difficulties proved frustrating; the miked sheet of metal she’d set up wasn’t making the right kind of racket when she hit it with her fist, and eventually she became so enraged that she knocked the entire apparatus over like a petulant child would.  It sat inert and forgotten on the stage exactly as it fell for the duration of the performance, which consisted of punishing drone and gut-wrenching screams.  Pharmakon is a project that hounds its creator, but also provides catharsis and connection with her audience.  It is impossible not to be moved, not to be captivated by Chardiet’s vocal onslaught, but she takes it several steps further by leaping into the audience, cradling random show-goers in her intense gaze, forehead to forehead (including Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, lead singer of Iceage, who looked on intently).  She lurches through the crowd, wailing, and it feels thrilling but wholly genuine and free of gimmicks, as if this is just how she always behaves.  Recordings from the project are made few and far between and are often released in small editions, making the much sought-after material rare.  But that seems appropriate given the raw nature of Pharmakon’s live set, in which her physical presence dominates a room entirely.  It’s as though her being becomes a channel for something otherworldly, outside of itself, and that’s something that can only be witnessed as it happens before one’s eyes.

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Iceage.
Iceage.

Iceage didn’t waste anytime in setting up and unleashing their brutal, blistering brand of industrial-influenced no-wave.  The set opened with “Ecstasy” from the much-anticipated sophomore album You’re Nothing, out on Matador February 19th.  If a band like Iceage seems a tad out of place on the label that birthed bands like Cat Power and Yo La Tengo, there are two important things to remember.  The first is that Matador’s catalogue is actually pretty diverse (especially in terms of its “alumni”), spanning many a genre, hosting many a genre-defining act. The second thing to remember is that if there’s anything that ties its roster together, it’s that Matador has represented the biggest, best, and brightest acts and are in the business of making them legendary in ways that independent acts rarely enjoy.

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EBR.
EBR.

While Iceage’s new record sees the band dealing with more interior thoughts and experimenting with some lighter touches, Matador hasn’t turned them into Belle & Sebastian by any means.  The searing live performances the band is capable of delivering prove that, and the new material is every bit as ferocious as the old.  Rønnenfelt was at his spastic best, model-gorgeous and buttoned up as usual but thrashing, moaning, and tearing electrical wires from the low rafters above his tall frame.  The skittering drums, scorched guitars and insistent bass that marked Iceage’s sound on 2011’s prolific New Brigade have carried over to the tracks the band developed for You’re Nothing, and though the band has been touring behind its older material for what seems like eons now their delivery packs every bit as much gusto.  In every way, Iceage makes it clear that they’ve taken to heart their role of ushering in a new era of punk rock, even if they seem removed from the hype that surrounds them.

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