Lightning Bolt Blows Fuses at 285 Kent

September 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

Brian Chippendale, of Lightning Bolt. 285 Kent

Brian Chippendale, of Lightning Bolt. 285 Kent

It was a bit after midnight last Thursday when Brian Chippendale made the first strike upon his (presumably worn-in) drum kit. It was sitting on the elevated stage inside 285 Kent, several feet above the standing audience.

That may have been noticeably high for those familiar with the legacy of Lightning Bolt, Chippendale’s notoriously noisy union with bassist Brian Gibson. Since the beginning—in Providence, RI during the mid-nineties, and by 1999 with the first of a handful of records on local experimental label Load—Lightning Bolt’s reputation has been rooted to sonic belligerence and wild-eyed performances that eschew the stage for the floor, where the duo is usually surrounded by its audience.

If there were gripes amongst the acolytes hoping to rub (or throw) elbows with the musicians, they were inaudible during this exhibition of sinewy megalomania. The stop at 285 Kent was a comeback of sorts; in 2009 Gibson and Chippendale returned from hiatus with Earthly Delights, before another spell of apparent inactivity. (Both members belong to several projects in either music or visual arts.)

For most in attendance it seemed a tacit understanding: this wasn’t only a new chance to see Lightning Bolt—it could be the last one, at least for some time. It was also a cheaper ticket than the weekend’s ATP Festival, where the band was scheduled for the following day. But a festival wasn’t the sole reason for this show.

Lightning Bolt came bearing a new record, too—though they favored the bludgeoning numbers lining Earthly Delights and Wonderful Rainbow (their full-bore best). Out Tuesday, Oblivion Hunter (Load), is seven songs and 39 minutes long. Its classification as an EP rather than a full-length is telling; none of the tracks are new, but rather archival recordings scattered over several years.

No matter, though. While it sounds thin when stacked against some of those robust LPs of the early 2000s, Oblivion Hunter is just as unhinged. There’s also a metallic clamor that binds it together: Gibson’s usually affected bass spirals arrive in a high, metallic gargle that’s oddly harmonious with the timbre of Chippendale’s furious flurries.

Brian Gibson, of Lightning Bolt, at 285 Kent

Brian Gibson.

If the makeup of their latest speaks to the pair’s reputed dislike of the recording process more than it does an absent creative spark, Lightning Bolt’s midnight-oil blitz on 285 Kent proved solid evidence.

There was an oppressive power in the volume—channeled out of the house speakers, as well as a makeshift back wall formed from a three-by-three stack of amplifiers the twosome brought and set up themselves. The jet stream that poured from them was feral and punishing, but not without its idiosyncrasies. Which, it should be said, feels true of Oblivion Hunter too: You feel its white-hot glow from a distance, where it can sound stubborn, but up close the system proves ever-changing and entirely present.

That was true of “Oblivion Balloon,” which heaved between fleet-fingered vamps and splotchy stomp retorts, and a dizzying reality that played out on Chippendale’s snare during “King Candy.” Not knowing what was planned from what may have been improvised was its own kind of hypnosis here—though several power outages (brought on by power surges from the tower of amplifiers) drew clearer boundaries around unrehearsed, drum-led endings—or at least, that was a game for the wallflowers watching from the more docile perimeter.

They were the minority, though. For the rambunctious lot this show was about participation. And while an entire room full of moshers is given to spike the thermostat on just about any given indoor space, the longer Lightning Bolt tore through its magma-tossed minimalism the more its drummer (and shouter) took on the appearance of an exposed circuit: You had the impression he was singlehandedly burning through the room’s vanishing air supply.

It was only with the encore that Chippendale shed his patented mask—not unlike that of a lucha libre wrestler, it contains a hemmed-in microphone. Physically, that was a marvel of endurance. On a deeper level it bestowed a freakish resolve to intensity (deterred not even by a badly bleeding arm during the final song), especially in contrast to Gibson’s busy thrumming from a stock-still pose. By the end of the set there was a sense that the room—its inhabitants, its wattage—was entirely spent.

M. Sean Ryan (September 24th, 2012)

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