Seeing an A Place to Bury Strangers gig is a bit like watching a car crash or witnessing a natural disaster; it forces you remember exactly where you were, how you felt and how it affected you. It stays with you, whether you want it to or not. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I can honestly say that the only difference between a hurricane and A Place to Bury Strangers live is the destructive aspect. The noise, the volume, the intensity and the sheer scale of it is on par with any kind of meteorological phenomenon.
I first saw these guys November of last year when they opened for MGMT. Nothing could really prepare me for the sonic onslaught that was their music. Saying it was loud would be a bit like saying getting shot in the face stings a bit. It was violent, unrelenting and literally painful. I remember watching in awe as the drummer, Jay Space, downed an entire bottle of Jack while maintaining these ridiculously frantic beats and thinking, “These guys are legit crazies.” However, in spite of all the dissonance and feedback, I really liked what I had heard.
When I found out they were coming back to Munich, this time as headliners, I was really psyched. KG and I arrived a bit late to the club due to some train delays but luckily we caught the tail end of Dag för Dag‘s (the opening band) set. I’m happy we did. Although nothing too original, this brother sister duo clearly loved what they were doing. Clad in glittering clothing, Sarah Snavely with her throaty yet melodic vocals made for extremely enjoyable listening. The real highlight of their set was a song called Hand and Knees which I could have sworn was a cover of an old Blondie song. After proclaiming their love for the Munich crowd they ended their set with I Am the Assassin which had a surprising number of the stoic crowd bobbing their heads and clapping along. After jumping off of the drum kit and falling heavily to the floor, Jacob Snavely & Co. left the stage.
Once the two small fog machines were activated by curiously charismatic frontman Oliver Ackermann the stage began to fill with thick white mist. The lights went down and a strange sort of projection show began. Through the fog circular beams of light revealed grids and blurry images on the back wall of the stage. This went on for about three minutes and after this rather disconcerting display, the band took the stage.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid for my hearing. I’ve been to very loud concerts before, but I’ve never been to a concert where they’ve provided free earplugs at the Garderobe. As I voiced my concerns to KG she simply said, “Earplugs are for pussies!” We decided to take our chances.
The show began with very little light with the drummer completely obscured by the thick smoke. The first few songs of the set were surprisingly melodic, even danceable. The intensity was still there, but it seemed as if the band was just warming up. However, with the first few opening chords of I Know I’ll See You, everything changed. The volume, miraculously increased and the crowd became even more riotous with a small mosh pit forming near where we were standing. In an extended interlude in the middle of the song Ackerman began to throw himself across the stage, as if possessed, frantically playing chords I don’t even think are meant to exist.
Next was Ocean, my personal favorite on the album. Although more a bit more subdued than the previous number, the song was much more intense here than on the album with a much more groovy and prominent bass part.
I’m not really sure how to describe what happened next, but I’ll try. So, Ocean never really ended, the band just kept on playing. The stage went completely black with the noise still blasting at full force and then, out of nowhere, the bassist turns on these strobe lights. I’ve never been so happy not to be epileptic in my life.
The only thing that made sense about this “jam”, if you can even call it that, was the steady heartbeat made by the drummer. Everything else was glorious chaos. People either stood completely still, transfixed by what was going onstage, or were in perpetual motion, lost in some void of sound. Ackerman reprised his demented lunging dance, wantonly playing dissonant chords and holding his guitar right next to the amp to create piercing feedback. Eventually he just threw his guitar on the ground, snapping all of its strings save for one which he desperately strummed, trying to wring out the dregs of lost sound. Eventually though, defeated, he sat prostrated over the broken instrument, as if praying while his band mates played on. It seemed like it could go on like that forever, with all of us watching as these men created something painful and intense and amazing and them just playing or exorcising demons or whatever you want to call what they were doing. Eventually though, Ackerman rose to retrieve an equally battered spare guitar and finished the show with In Your Heart off of the new EP.
They left just as they came, without a word and in the dark.
If I was forced to describe ‘s sound in just a few words, I’d say it was melodious anarchy because, underneath all of the reverb and static and angst there is solid songwriting. If you can see these guys live, do it. It’s loud, and you will lose the ability to hear properly for a few days afterwards, but it is so worth it. As esoteric as this music is, it’s really truly music; totally expressionistic and emotive. You watch these guys play, and you feel the music in your stomach and you see how completely done they are at the end of it, and you’ll know what I mean.
I’m not really sure how they’ve managed to make 45 minutes of ear-splitting noise enjoyable, but somehow they do it. It’s beautiful.