The Body has long been a band that you could rely on to roll into town once a year or so for years before the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to live shows as we know it for a good long while. The band’s uniquely cathartic, experimental extreme metal, monolithic onslaught was something you could take for granted as an inevitability. And finally the duo returned to Denver for a show at Larimer Lounge that was not a bill of all metal or heavy bands in any conventional sense and that is part of why this show felt particularly impactful. On a personal note when I walked up to the merch table drummer/programmer Lee Buford complimented by Chari XCX t-shirt and it was sincere. I would have been surprised but The Body is a band that has made no bones about its appreciation for music far afield of that for which it’s known and its 2016 album No One Deserves Happiness paired heaviness with 80s dance tracks. For me this acknowledgment of a mutual appreciation for one of the more interesting pop artists of today set a mood for the show to come.
Less than a week prior Polly Urethane had performed with Rusty Steve for a powerful set opening for A Place to Bury Strangers. For this show Polly Urethane performed alone for a set of music completely different from her performance the previous Thursday. She had the long white cowl on hand for part of the set but performed much of the show in black with a t-shirt. Elegant piano work and operatic classical style vocals paired with an old Realistic Air Force Sound Effects record sampled directly and some of Polly’s electronic pieces.
The music felt like part of a greater arc of performance wherein Polly broke that stage and audience barrier by going out into the crowd with her extended mic chord and while on stage stood on top of monitors balancing there somehow as if setting an example of fearlessness vulnerability. When she brought her left leg up on top of the piano while leaning forward to play it and sing it challenged notions of how the instrument is “supposed” to be played in performance and gave a visual element to the show that seemed to change regularly so that you really had no chance to get bored not that the music itself gave that opportunity either as it fused classical convention with the avant-garde in equal measure and performance art as much as musical.
Anyone that hadn’t seen Midwife in a good long while, like many of us, couldn’t have been quite prepared for how much Madeline Johnston has honed her set. Not that she lacked for emotional power before and maybe it’s all just a matter of the weight of the past few years that went into the writing of the music and fine tuning its performance and presentation but every song hit deep. If your heart didn’t break from the way Johnston held pauses in the flow of the song to allow the unspoken emotional swell to build before heading back in to direct that energy to greater heights and depths you have probably lost the capacity to be affected by music. It’s just Johnston, her guitar and maybe some backing tracks and it’s spare stuff but it has all been refined for maximum evocative power at this point. You can feel the anguish and sorrow cathartically flowing through songs like the utterly crushing and devastating “S.W.I.M.” – the hazy soundscapes and perfectly accented guitar riffs coupled with Johnston’s warmly gentle vocals and ability to draw out the distillation of despair and memories of better times honors the loss she depicts in her songs in a way that hits all the emotional keys in your brain the way maybe they need to be more often.
The whole set felt like one, extended, beautiful exorcism for a few moments the sadness of the living memory of people and places and situations you’ll never get back. It was shamanic in effect and transcended simple music which is an utter rarity in live music with how Johnston is able to make your time with her feel so intimate, moving and healing.
Maybe it never hit full before but the colossal, gritty and unusual sounds that had made The Body such an interesting band in the past had always been something of an orchestration of sounds, textures, rhythms and moods that Chip King and Lee Buford orchestrate in a two person format to accomplish nuances that full bands sometimes don’t. King’s eccentric, screechy vocals have subtleties of their own and part of that is the syncopation of his vocals with guitar and percussion. Buford using both electronic drums and acoustic is somehow both utterly bludgeoning and elegant in execution like he is fully aware of how every aspect of what he’s doing has the potential to have an effect on the listener and his partner in crime King’s emotional state during the performance and vice versa. And yet it felt so spontaneous and raw it was easy to miss unless you were keyed into that dynamic between the two musicians and the crowd. King’s feedback sculpting spiraled out like a jet engine at times and within those scorched gyres of distorted guitar fragments there was a great sense of release and a joyful abandon that seemed like the reason to play and to witness music like this.
King and Buford performed with a zen-like intensity and focus yet released the energy they coiled up across the set with a dynamic force that was impossible to rest and in which to be caught up. After over a decade of seeing this band now and then this show made it obvious that The Body has built into its craft and its songwriting a lack of laurels upon which to rest and if its eclectic and prolific set of releases isn’t proof enough it’s that absorbing of disparate influences into its music that is channeled into the show that sets it apart from many other extreme metal bands experimental or otherwise.
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