Whirr @ Trunk Space | 3/6/13
I don't want to be a shallow critic, but there's no denying the Whirr's firm place in the shoegaze section of the record store. They are knee-deep in the genre tropes: the excessive delay and reverb, the lead guitar doing some twinkly thing while the rhythm section hammers at the same riff ad infinitum, the Prozac vocals. Even the band's name is synonymous with a buzz or droning sound. This is the indie rock equivalent of stoner metal. It's music about extremities that makes you feel things, often on a physical level. Like stoner metal, the nuance is hard to pick apart. You either vibe with it or you don't. Whirr's performance last night at the Trunk Space certainly made me feel something.
I think the band was easy to connect with because, in spite of playing a notoriously "unfun" genre of music, they seemed to have fun while they were playing. Opening with an audio sample from the film Eyes Wide Shut, the part where Tom Cruise's character gives the password "Fidelio" to enter a masquerade orgy, the band played a set that felt like a jam session that, unlike the orgy from that film, was inclusive to all and filled with smiles and unmasked human emotion. The Trunk Space's sound system was in no way capable of completely accommodating the band's sound, but I think that added to the performance in that the band was pushing things as far as it could. The band's sound seemed at capacity, saturating the small space in a way that I don't think would be possible in a large room with a high ceiling. It felt appropriate.
While Whirr seems to play the shoegaze signifiers straight and yield successful results, their tourmates Nothing were more experimental, but short of their potential in some places. Like Whirr, they layer their music with copious amounts of reverb and delay, however they have this kind of mid-2000s emo influence that makes me wonder whether it's just a veneer for something that otherwise would sound like Brand New. Still, there were moments when it definitely clicked, and it will be interesting to see where this band takes its sound, as Nothing comes from a direction more unorthodox for this kind of music.
The openers I saw (I missed the first band because of the nightmare of a parking situation associated with Wednesday night Mass at the nearby church) were both bands of young people playing styles of music that had their heyday way before their time. Column III played a set of the kind of Botch-influenced hardcore that always kind of lingers on the fringe of the heavy music scene. The kind of stuff for people too artsy to indulge in a lot of contemporary hardcore and too intimidated by the complexity of metal to immersive themselves in that scene. Tucson's No Radio played straight-up power pop, even covering Superchunk at the end of their set.
I think both bands opening this show are indicative of the general pattern of young people growing up and ditching the scenes of their teens and digging through the annals of music history to find something that complements their maturing tastes.
In terms of shoegaze, the bands people usually discover are My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. Since those bands are composed of relative geriatrics who perform only at festivals, it makes sense for there to be a new wave of young and energetic bands like Whirr and Nothing to carry the torch to the new generation. However, I can't help being wary of bands that strictly adhere to genre conventions, which restrict bands like this (and any other throwback band) from creating anything innovative. While walls of sound will always win over a certain crowd of people, that easy gratification can create too much of a comfort zone. I am glad that a band like Whirr can remind people of what they love about shoegaze, but I hope the band is able to remind people about what they love about Whirr.