all words: Robert Winship
all photos: Julian Vu
What do you know about This Will Destroy You? I’ll try not to make too many assumptions, but if you’re a fan, I take it you were at the show, as the venue was packed heel-to-toe. If you aren’t necessarily a fan, you might know them as the other Texas band plugging cinematic crescendos and not-to-serious, emotionally-charged song titles. And on this I will say that while the newer material from TWDY may or may not be a direct retaliation against former associations, either with a genre or other central-Texas band. Regardless, they have expanded the mood of their work and have found a place for both glory and despair.
Downstairs, bar filled up quickly, with everyone being let up at 8. This was a good time to grab a DC Brau and get schooled in the necessity of SongKick by my buddy. A quick visual check of the crowd will tell you that you’ve seen a lot of these people at other shows. But, I was surprised by the overall level of commitment the audience gave to all three acts. Opening bands tend to play to shit. Even some great headliners will get talked over for the entirety of their set. This was the case when Bon Iver played the Black Cat in ’08. But this crowd made even the wait-out blip and drone of Mountains a time for reflection. Mountains (Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg) looked like two men sitting at a desk putting in nine-to-five loops and noise, but the dirgy and repetitive hums lead into organic melodies that shook the boredom out of the place. Mountains are the equivalent of stretching before an athletic event. The exercise in itself can be enjoyable and adds meaning to a host of other music.
Amen Dunes bridged the gap between Mountains and This Will Destroy You with a slow pace and heavy, belly-up, garage rock. My wife leaned over to me during the set to mention, “This sounds like that band you like from the nineties, Slint!” Damon McMahon’s bellows and washed out vocals steeped in loop-inducing reverb and echo never lost the sense of conviction and sometimes sorrow. I don’t know what he was saying, as I’m still working through their 2011 release Through Donkey Jaw, but the entire execution was beautiful, prophetic and consuming. They took the sound of a disaffected Kurt Vile and mashed him in with the strung-out but melodic drones of Pure X and earlier Sic Alps.
This Will Destroy You lived up to their name. The emotive song titles and cinema-score of their early work was fit in with the self-described doom of their newest LP, Tunnel Blanket. I daresay TWDY approached the emotive dissonance of even Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Granted, the visual show was nowhere near that caliber. The music and drive of the band was as calibrated and thorough as you could have hoped for. From the wandering doom of “Burial on the Presidio Banks” to the pressing glory of “Quiet”, to the brutal ending of “Three-Legged Workhorse”, TWDY seemed to use the experiments of the supporting acts to unfurl an apocalyptic vision. This may sound like I’m overstating a decent show; however, the performance really surpassed my expectation. For so many people to come together and give their attention to an entire night of sonic experimentation meant that each band came across as transcendent.
If you review any amount of music, reviews begin to look like a checklist of associations and references, but more often than not, live performance shakes the calculations out of me. Such was this show. In another example of a compelling performance held in the understated glory of the Red Palace, this was affirmation of the power of a live show without all the gimmick. But, at the last wavering note, the audience cheered, muttered to each other, then shuffled out quickly. It was over.