Lake Trout, Alley Katz, Richmond, VA- 9/20
Most of the population of Richmond, VA don't have power. Motorists barrel down darkened streets like drivers in a demolition derby, waiting to be blindsided as some other reckless fool plows through one of the many intersections where stoplights hang from dead wires, dark and useless. University students light bonfires in their row-house front lawns and bang on drums, pots and trash cans just to pass the time. Those with the money and foresight to do so cleaned out the generators long ago. The city is almost completely under shadow. Alley Katz has gotten its hands on one of the biggest power machines in the city, but Lake Trout is coming tonight, and even Alley Katz can't escape the darkness.
They come swooping in on the uninitiated with their train of goths, punks, hippies and rockers, all hungry for the singular night only Lake Trout can deliver. As the lights fade from white to red, multi-instrumentalist Matt Pierce and guitarist/vocalist Woody Ranere ease the audience in slowly with horror film scream scene dissonance, building the nervous anticipation to a barely audible hum. The rest of the band swagger in in formation to join in the psychological manipulation until bassist James Griffith beats out the opening line of "I Was Wrong." Ranere's lovesick vocals always seem on the verge of tumbling into psychotic obsession. His heartrending, falsetto croon is at turns scary and beautiful, but always a little disconcerting, especially behind that handsome baby-face whose maniacal eyes hide devilish intent. "Say Something" is a bit brighter, but the droning bass line and incessantly repetitive guitar riff are just about enough to make you want to crawl into a corner. The mood is just downright creepy and you're at the point where you're just not sure you want to go through with this.
Those in the audience who are more receptive to these shadowy dreamscapes are broken from their gently swaying zombie hypnosis when the band itself suddenly wakes up into apocalyptic machine-gun drum artillery. They abruptly drop back into their dark foxhole only to rise back up into the war zone again and again. The as-yet untitled song is a schizophrenic roller coaster ride that jerks to a sudden halt as quickly as it shifted moods mid-song, and the audience disembarks crazed and bloodthirsty for more.
Pierce rabidly echoes their sentiments, screaming "Mine!" like a murderous, lunatic bag lady clutching some trinket in one hand while wielding a rusty knife in the other. "Pill" shifts and turns and spins you around until you find yourself lost in an unknown jungle where the rhythm and sunny tones of "Let Me Show You What I'm Used To" possess you; your limbs are dancing, your body flailing in exorcising release. The tension that has kept you still and anxious all night seeps out like a long, heavy sigh, but as the opening guitar attack of Ministry's "Stigmata" pummels you with blow after blow, you realize you've forgotten yourself. It's too late to go back. You're a partner in this diabolic plot. The violent roar is exhilarating and addictive and you're alarmed to discover you like it.
But as soon as you surrender to your need for these disturbing, violent vibrations, they end. The slow ethereal pulse of the Rolling Stones "Street Fightin' Man" hypnotizes the audience once more, juxtaposing a trance-like rumble with the lyrics' subtle anarchic propaganda. The throbbing beats of "Bliss" and "#2" nourish your subconscious compulsion, and every time the music builds to another forceful climax, you expect to see knife-wielding madmen circling the herd, stunned and helpless as this band of maniacs slashes their musical preconceptions into a million pieces. "#2" rises and falls, thrashing you about. The sounds coming from the stage descend into a throbbing cacophony until the relentless onslaught finally subsides and the band's deceptively plaintive "I'm Sorry" placates your sanity for a brief moment. "Stutter" prolongs the respite with its easy hooks and steady groove, but the merciless rage of "Bully," with its single riff coming down again and again like a shard of glass in the gut, is the final gash, your last breath. As the band leaves the stage, you feel yourself quiver and struggle to stand and clutch at the air to keep from falling.
A few heavy breaths and they have returned to toll the bell. "Sounds From Below" brings you back to days past, radio hits and easy definitions, but when the band launches into "A Forest," all that is gone. You are "lost in a forest / all alone." And as the song slowly fades into discord, you open your eyes to find this mad band of marauders is gone. You stare at an empty stage, ears ringing, fists still clenched, neck sore, eyes blinded by the white lights now shining down from all corners, wondering if it was all just a bizarre hallucination. You shake your head, lift your foot and put it down. Again. Again. It was just a rock n' roll show. Just music. You walk out the door, into the cobblestone alley, and out to the street, into the darkness once again.