Published on April 7th, 2015 | by Aaron Drain0
A Place To Bury Strangers w/ Travis Is A Tourist @ Voodoo, Belfast
On a cold, dank – did I mention cold? – and generally miserable Belfast evening, what could be more inviting than some live music with good friends and good beers? Not much, and as we headed into Voodoo, safe in the knowledge that the aforementioned factors would welcome us, we were thrilled to just be warm and dry. Then, at 8.30 sharp-ish, Travis Is A Tourist takes to the stage in support of the headline act for the evening, A Place To Bury Strangers. Wonderful. Well, actually, wonderful in a sense.
Here’s the thing: Travis Is A Tourist (below) is great. More than great, in fact. Travis Gilbert’s guitar playing is reminiscent of the percussive finger-style championed by the late, great John Martyn, whom I adore. His voice is sweet when it needs to be and savage when required. Lyrically, Gilbert wears his heart on his sleeve, a cliche yes, but a necessary one to describe the heartfelt nature of his inner-musings and heartfelt deliveries. He plays well and despite the fact that there are just seven people watching him (from a distance, I might add), he intersperses his largely acoustic songs with comfortable wit. Unfortunately, whoever paired him with A Place To Bury Strangers is completely out of their fucking element. It was Donny, probably. It just doesn’t make any sliver of sense and although Gilbert played a satisfying set, those seven lookers-on, maybe eight at this point, are scratching their heads and whispers of “huh?”softly reverberate across the tables. It’s well justified too, considering the huge genre-divide and the sheer wall of noise we’re about to encounter courtesy of the main act.
A little after 9.30pm and the few transforms into a few more, as soaked music fans begin to cross the threshold. Then, after a brief set-up and equipment check, the hiss and static of feedback begins its humongous crescendo. It’s loud, bold and incredibly dark, and then they appear, thrashing out visceral notes and hammering drum beats all enclosed in a white-noise sonic cage. Strobe lights intermittently charge the growing crowd and we’re agog at the performance that A Place To Bury Strangers put on so far. They are utterly animalistic, and for a while it appears as if they’ve either dipped into a cask of bourbon or very large wrap of dodgy speed. They’re all over the place, dipping and weaving with their instruments whilst creating the most raucous noise we’ll probably ever encounter. The strobe-lights become more intense as the songs they play get louder and more experimental. It’s notable that they’re mostly playing songs from their latest albumTransfixiation, and it’s fair to say that transfixed is the nature of the crowd, largely due to the fact that the bassist has thrown his guitar to the floor 6 feet away from the stage and then swiftly retrieves it. Chaotically beautiful.
The display is somewhat poetic – they’re gracefully clumsy, if such a scenario is possible, and their anarchy soon becomes a clear orchestrated response to the music that they’re pummelling us with. It’s excellent and a trip and a strange, wild encounter with a punk band who have time travelled from 1970’s New York. They also never, ever seem to stop. There are no lulls between tracks. Instead, reverberation and feedback provide a blistering aural assault as they quickly jump from one track to the next, and that is certainly not a complaint. Panting, sweating, just like the crowd at this point, A Place To Bury Strangers briefly exit the stage before reappearing and dragging a huge drum machine, a synthesiser and slightly knocked-around bass guitar into the middle of the crowd, before settling beside a partition. What they then do is incredible. With absolutely no regard for their own security, they allow the crowd to form around them as they punch buttons and twist knobs, creating some of the most intense electronic noise we’ve ever heard. The crowd is hypnotised. We stand watching, keeping our distance and fighting the urge to move closer and reach out to the demented, collective beast that’s writhing amongst wires and cables before us.
Then, it stops. Nearing silence, applause ensues and some genuine sighs of relief as the volume subsides, presumably comforting to those who were not expecting the decibel level to be so high. We’re changed, we’re shaken and jarred, and we know we’ll never experience anything like this again, but we know we want to. And our ears? Quite happily ringing. Phew. Aaron Drain
Photos by Sara Marsden