Friday, November 29, 2013
Live: Destruction Unit, Glue, SSLEEPERHOLD @ The North Door 11/22/13
24 hours. That’s how far in advance this Destruction Unit show was announced. $3 dollars, all ages, at a venue on the east side I’ve only been to once before that usually didn’t accommodate this sort of ruckus. Pop-up shows like this rarely ever happen in Austin, and they couldn’t have picked a worse night to call people out; it had dropped to 34 F from the high of 77 from the day before, and it had been raining all day, making the roads damp and dangerous. Despite all this though, the show was sold out when I got there, the usual gang hurdled in triple layers of thick wool coats and scarves, more than ready for the inevitable chaos that was to come this night.
I was worried about seeing SSLEEPERHOLD live. Not in the sense of whether I would enjoy it; I had listened to him a few hours before and thought his murky, dark synth work was excellent. But that sort of thing live usually only works in certain contexts, and is even harder to make engaging for people who’ve never heard it before. So SSLEEPERHOLD didn’t go for atmosphere; he went for straight for absorption. His amp was cracked so high that each beat punctured the body, rattled the skull, and he built & layered effects and cold, piercing synths in a way that only a true master could. Everyone was too scared to dance, even in the venue’s near pitch black lighting, though you could see as more and more people bobbled their heads and swayed their bodies as his set progressed. Rapturous applause erupted after he pulled the plug, and with his set had solidified the tension that would erupt further into the night.
The last time I had seen Glue was when they were opening for Hoax, playing a short but sweet set of some pretty cool, weirdo hardcore. Here, though, they really got to shine in all their demented glory. The seemed a little tighter, and played even more intensely than they had at the Mohawk. Frontman Harris was truly something, a coil that sprung and writhed across the stage; never pausing for a moment during their fifteen minutes. The crowd responded equally, a pit forming almost instantly, though with only about fifteen of the 120 people there going nuts, moshing in too wide a pit and jumping off the stage into people who instantly threw them onto the ground. My only guess is that people were reserving their energy for what was to come next.
This was the last stop on Destruction Unit’s tour, after being on the road for six months, having started with their Choas in Tejas performances back in June. The contrast between seeming them then and seeing them at the North Door was immeasurable. This was as close to the first time I saw them opening for the Men a year and a half ago, where a smoke machine covered the stage and firecrackers went off midway through the show, adding to the chaos of a band thrashing and going insane onstage. There was no smoke machine or fireworks tonight, but the strobe-like lights from the venue served as a good substitution, as the band launched into screeching and noisy songs that could only come into existence from the most demented and vile acid jams imaginable. The crowd wasn’t as violent as during Glue, but there were more people crashing together, and in the dim lighting it felt more dangerous. The band intensified through the night, the dementia leaking out of their songs, which got louder throughout their set, but never lost form or quality (the secret trick of Destruction Unit is the fact that as sprawling and twisted as their songs can get, they’re actually great, damaged psych punk). Two different guitarists fell into the crowd, and by the end of the set, the band was literally banging their instruments against their amps. Under normal circumstances it would have been a band falling apart onstage, but for them it was just another set. Not even the eight minutes one of the guitarist spent rewiring his pedals by the glow of cellphone light could detour their set. The road had broken them, and reshaped them into the psychotic band they once were, and it was a glorious & frightening thing to behold.