The Men and Lower Dens Sail Inn Thursday, June 28
See also: 'Open Your Heart' to The Men In a two-for-one deal that worked out swimmingly, the combined bills of Lower Dens and The Men converged at Sail Inn for a two-stage show that felt like a mini-festival.
The desert siren sludge of Tempe's Destruction Unit was definitely elevated by Sail Inn's outdoor stage. Their live formula is consistent, but its one worth repeating: they fire up a hypnotic bass line, extend some groovy riffage on one vamp, lead it into a quiet verse, then recede into shredded oblivion. Currently on tour with The Men, the D. Unit guys basically set the tone for a night where every band was groove-oriented in a different way, be it slow, fast, trippy or propulsive.
Instead of hanging loose in the pocket, Montreal's No Joy was relentlessly high-tempo, like they were cramming the shoegaze distortion of My Bloody Valentine into the framework of a Kim-led Sonic Youth ripper. This effect is pretty stunning on their records, but I suspect a lacking sound check left it feeling inarticulate on stage. Either way, No Joy's guitarists ducked behind their long hair and tore in, and it felt good to be consecutively bludgeoned by their amps before I even recover from D. Unit.
Brooklyn's The Men also embody a strange concoction, but one that cuts deeper and sounded more compelling. Originally counted among New York's pigfuck revival bands, the honed their hardcore sound into a catchy psych funnel with their latest album, Open Your Heart. Sounding extra loud on the outdoor stage, it initially felt very much like seeing hardcore dudes ham-fist their way through a mid-tempo Neil Young stomp. But then they broke into speedy album opener "Turn It Around," with its gorgeous vocal melody, and the Men's conflicted sound blossomed.
The guys are all technically proficient yet restrained in a fascinating way. Everyone except the punchy drummer takes on lead vocal duties. The bassist played nothing but brutal chords and the occasional whip-fast high-end lick. The guitars occupy a distorted psych space that feels both cozy and prone to collapse at any moment. It's a blessing that they became dissatisfied with sheer force, because their irrepressible hardcore tendencies pair so well with their psych yearnings. Whatever new kick they get on next should be just as exciting.
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Closing it out were Lower Dens, Baltimore purveyors of trance-inducing kraut-pop. I've been a fan of singer Jana Hunter since the mid-2000s, back when she was a solo songwriter counted among the New Weird America tribe. The only aspect of Hunter's past life that shows up in Lower Dens is her forceful yet achingly subtle voice, which commanded the band's gorgeous set.
They chose to open with their two biggest singles, which would normally get an F-minus in Set List Construction 101. However, the mood of their set was one of dissipation, where the band's driving songs slowly moved into ephemeral ones. The serenely slow "I Get Nervous" from Twin-Hand Movement led nicely into the hopeful churn of "Brains," the most cohesive song from their ominous new album Nootropics. Hunter initially brayed over the whorl of guitar and synth, then cooed over atmospheric textures. It may have been merely a logistical change, but the combined bills had a pleasant flow, and Lower Dens concluded the night with grace.
Last night: The Men and Lower Dens at Sail Inn. Seriously: Why doesn't every venue have two stages?