Discovery is always a part of the concert experience. In a live setting, bands are given the freedom to change the way their songs reveal themselves and to completely alter their sound if they so choose. This is one of the reasons why people love seeing their favorite groups live-you never know what to expect when you have a band truly loosen up onstage. This sense of revelation also applies to bands who you may not be familiar with, specifically any opening bands whose music isn’t known to you. Sometimes this can work in your favor, and these mystery groups prove to be a wonderful addition to the show. Sometimes not. But it’s always fascinating to hear bands for the first time, and I was ready to be surprised.
When Los Angeles rockers VS Colour took the stage, they were a complete unknown for me. By the end of their set, I couldn’t wait to hear more. They mixed a potent, groove-addled indie rock tenacity with a sludgy punk intensity that left the stage smoking and composed of burning embers. They built complex and wildly danceable rock rhythms that leaned heavily on the bass but didn’t neglect the rest of the band in their execution. It was loud and melodic and more often than not left you sweating and anxious for more.
Their set was short, but you could tell that the audience was hanging on every note and syllable, wanting the band to play just one more song. Someone made a comparison to artists like Pylon and Gang of Four, and I completely agree. They were able to take the punkish drive and melodic underpinning of those early bands and create something that felt relevant and wonderfully affecting as it spilled out from the stage. If you’ve never heard of VS Colour before, now’s your chance to discover a band whose work is ready to inspire some erratic and intense bodily movements.
Shortly after VS Colour left the stage, Los Angeles trio Goldensuns took over and delivered a massive slab of dense indie rock noise. They roared and stomped holes in the stage, anchored by the impressive interplay and intuition of each member. The bass was prominent as deeply thrumming notes laid the framework for some lithe and spectacular lead guitar work-and the steady ferocity of the drums never failed to make a lasting crater in your chest. The band is clearly indebted to some of the early ’90s alt rock legends and turned those inspirations into a singular rock barrage.
The band was playful within this layered guitar spectacle, conversing with the audience and giving off a relaxed air of comfort with their surroundings (even if it was their first time in Chattanooga). Sometimes you want to hear a band who has become so incredibly attuned to a specific sound that they seem like they could create it in their sleep, and Goldensuns quickly and clearly evinced that idea last night. Guitar strings were frayed, bass necks were worn, and drumheads were gleefully fractured. The audience loved every second of it.
But then we were on to Warpaint. And if people weren’t entirely sure what they were getting themselves into, they surely had an inkling when the pedal boards started coming onstage. These were some of the most impressive I’ve seen, with upward of nine or 10 attached to each. I will admit that there very well may be bigger and more crowded boards, but I haven’t seen them. The band took the stage after a few preliminary adjustments, and we were plunged into a dark room filled with smoke and anticipation.
As someone who has followed them from their debut to their latest record, “Heads Up,” it’s impossible not to see a very pronounced evolution, as each album has given the band license to mix and shift their immediate perspectives so that they’re constantly searching for meaning in the world around them. With “Heads Up,” they revealed that their inspirations came from recent hip-hop and R&B, and those influences can be heard threading their way through those songs. However, in a live setting, the music is much more immersive and plays to a broader canvas of sound.
As the sound grew and churned like a lumbering beast waking from sleep, the band constructed an atmosphere of post-rock theatrics and densely arranged instrumental aching that drew the attention of everyone present. They connected each track in a seamless brew of droning rhythms, with the occasional explosion of revved-up guitars or cacophonous percussion adding the perfect weight and balance to their world building. Voices were cast out from the stage in unfiltered euphoria, an expulsion of melodic outrage and fierceness that seemed ready to bring the walls down around our heads.
With each extended jam (yes, I said jam-but not in a bad way), the band built upon the sound they had perfected in the studio. They pulled apart their influences onstage for all to see and quickly rebuilt them to suit their own needs. And for those in attendance, the experience was nothing short of miraculous. The guitars buzzed loudly in your ears while the sound of drums cracked against your sternum. The band wasn’t looking to simply play a few songs and send everyone on their way home-they wanted to show us the weight and emotion that their music could carry. And as the music faded away and the house lights came up, there wasn’t any doubt left that they had done exactly that.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.