All words: Robert Winship — All photos: Katherine Gaines
It’s Saturday night at St. Stephens with a slow crowd, promises of heavy music, and the hope of some transcendent art in the form of three duos and one thrash-core outfit. The Positive Force gig was a benefit for the Washington Animal Rescue League and held as one of the many events put on by Mark Anderson’s team through St. Stephens. I arrived early and watched the group of bands build the floor into a soundstage using a hodgepodge of owned and borrowed equipment and then construct their music accordingly. The acts were all emotionally heavy in their respective musical intensity, but the array of styles never detracted, nor do they ever seem to at the Positive Force helm.
First up, imagine you’re sitting in your bedroom…it’s 1997 and you are roaming around your shitty apartment searching for inspiration to write music. The unresolved teen angst has been stewing too long; it lost it giddiness and anarchy and is slumped in the bathroom quoting from Fall of the House of Usher. In the name of Poe, I give you Lenorable, an undercooked project that combines Ian Graham’s chugging, glam-metal guitars, a drum machine and some very melodramatic vocals, courtesy of Lisa Reed. The duo works well when they able to build up steam and tighten the synth-goth to a bitter punk sound, but the madness of Lisa’s Siouxsie Sioux balladry proved more interesting.
Next up, Washerwoman, with whom comes checkpoint for every girl playing guitar live: Angela Morrish is your new idol. She’s one of the most solid female guitarists I’ve seen, in recent memory, especially considering her control of the melody over Nathan Jurgenson’s fierce and tightly wound percussion. Washerwoman is brooding, confident and reminiscent old PJ Harvey, if PJ Harvey were a DC veteran. Angela’s guitar plodding allowed her to display the jaded vocal musings of a girl exorcising her demons under the rugged namesake of the band. Where one song is only the plinking of strings, the next is a weighty dirge bowing to snap of Nathan’s tom and snare. Their new 7” on Cricket Cemetery is still unreleased in physical form, but you can snag those tracks through the label.
The description world-hatred thrash core should tell you everything you need to know about LTW or at least conjure up the right aural image of the shadowbox thrash that is their wheelhouse. Brutal, discerning, and mad, it was unfortunate that they were reduced to a 15-20 minute set, though well-anchored by Ian Thompson’s unrelenting drumming thrill. The band was wild. Vocalist Denman Anderson bore all the energy and showmanship of a cult leader driving a congregation to the slaughter on “Total Garbage” as he left no room for breath between his wide-eyed screams. John Crum took to the garage with his forward facing doom chops Tim Bean tackled the remaining noise with frenetic bass. LTW’s set started off with all blast beats and crunchy guitar licks, but spread out the dynamic into sludgy bridge passages, with shifting analog chirp, crunch and whir that rustled memories of The Locust. Considering Ian runs Cricket Cemetery, I’d say this band is more than crucial to DC’s crucial scene.
Full disclosure, I can’t name all of the songs Jake and Kim Reid unhinged that night and for once it doesn’t matter. The Arlington duo known as Screen Vinyl Image sweat out nearly an hour’s worth of pulsing drum and synthesizer loops and the siren ring of coupling guitar work (on beautiful collection of Jaguars and Jazzmasters). On record, SVI’s shoegaze-by-way-of-90s-alternative-club-culture tampers their live fury by doubling down on the moodiness of the scene’s 80s predecessors. Live, it’s whole other experience. Not to speak poorly of the records, especially 2010’s dark masterpiece, Interceptors. The steady stream of SVI albums and singles prove just how perfectly they’ve nailed the shoegaze/coldwave sound without aping the scene’s elder statesman. But their live performance, which masks the shrouded Reids in a massive video screen of acid psychedelic, swallowed the venue in the reverberation and beat. In other words it was what a live show should be, but rarely is. As they moved into the panicked start of “Revival”, even the fans above danced in kinephantom above the flashing screen. They closed with a new track, the pneumatic snare driven “Void”. Every band captured my attention, but Screen Vinyl Image drove home a transcendent haze that would make Kevin Shields proud.