Photos By Franz Mahr, Words By Jeb Gavin
Everyone should have the opportunity to experience low air turbulence at least once in their life. The sensation of being slammed into the tarmac, scraped off and lifted back up only to be slammed down again- you really have no idea what air pressure is like until it knocks you breathless and ragged. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m comparing seeing Death From Above 1979 Monday night at the 9:30 Club to the experience of being crushed by a jet plane touching down. Describing it as intense would be doing it a disservice.
The evening started out relatively quiet, given what was to come. Opening act Biblical plays a sort of sludgy melodic hard rock, like listening to Hawkwind through subwoofers. I kept wanting to compare them to Black Mountain (the only other contemporary Canadian hard rock band I know,) except Black Mountain hails from out west, plays psychedelic rock, and managed to get shown up by Bon Iver one night a few years ago at the Rock and Roll Hotel. In contrast, Biblical is from Montreal -and far more important- did an admirable job setting the stage for the sound that was to follow.
It hadn’t struck me until well after the show but so much of the melodies, both from Biblical and DFA1979 were about as low on the register as you could imagine. My only real problem with Biblical’s set was that songs sort of ran together. Extended jams bled over and there was no way to say, “Oh, I really like that song.” Instead it was more, “Yeah, I liked that random, churning two minute drum fill before he started singing again for the second time.”
After a really solid break of the sound guys playing some tasty classic country and western cuts, Jesse Keeler and Sebastien Grainger took their places on stage. The former stood between an array of basses, bass amps, and a keyboard; the latter sat behind a drum kit and microphone. Pleasantries were casually tossed at the audience, and we were off to the races.
Brutal isn’t any more the right word than intense would be. Keeler and Grainger both look like iterations of Dave Grohl’s id left to run amok, and make sounds to match. The beginning of each song came with a meniscus lens of pressure rushing at you. Each end brought a weird tint of light, a momentary flash of anti-Cherenkov radiation, like the air itself was roughed up conveying such sound waves.
It’s hard to explain this crush of noise firing out at you relentlessly over the course of a set. You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine can be played at low volume, but it’s never quiet. Live, you don’t even have the courtesy of a volume knob. There’s no refuge, even standing outside.
As I’d mentioned above, it’s curious following these melodies through the bottom end of the sound. Watching a man throttle a clear, acrylic bass guitar, you can’t particularly eke out a single line, but you feel it throb out at you. You can dance to it just as easily as you can thrash to it. Assuming you can move at all. This isn’t the kind of music that casually walks up and slaps you in the face; Monday night was a gut-punch, and once knocked to the ground you stayed down or were stomped on. And yet I demand more.