At a time when we’re constantly being made aware of how rock and roll is dead and musicians are trading brick-and-mortar instruments for synthesizers when they should be recording solely in analog, it’s reassuring to see not just one, but two very different bands who exemplify the changing—and not at all for the worse—face of rock and roll. Last night, “chillwave” associates Small Black shared the stage with glam-rock nugazers The Horrors at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and my faith in contemporary rock and roll was restored.
For a band that capitalized on such an Internet-fueled genre as “chillwave”, it’s somewhat ironic that Small Black were touring on little to no online ripples since last year’s Moon Killer Mixtape. Sure enough, the Brooklyn band threw in only one new song with a handful of tunes culled evenly from their self-titled EP and New Chain LP from two years ago. That might have been a death sentence for any other band—especially since Moon Killer’s predominant guest, Das Racist’s Heems, didn’t make a hoped-for surprise onstage appearance (what can I say? I’m an eternal optimist)—but Small Black’s multifaceted performance exemplified high quality over novelty.
Their drums sat low and heavy in the mix, keeping the beat so the bassist could provide the melody, much as a guitar would. The booming, epic “Photojournalist” almost took the roof off the venue and “brand new track” “Min Max”’s surprisingly sexy funk made me look forward to whatever Small Black comes out with next. Like truly compelling electronic acts, the band overcame the necessary stasis of standing behind cheap Casio keyboards by dancing onstage to their own irresistible rhythms and synthesizers, trying their best to appeal to every listener’s innate sense of rhythm. I only wished the audience was moving and enjoying itself as much as the guys performing in front of them.
So it was an admittedly painful stretch adjusting to The Horrors’ unnaturally ear-piercing distortion, like their instruments were being electrocuted to death. Once I settled into that key change, what struck me most about the London garage-nee-“Zombie Punk” outfit was how much the baby-faced band members looked like they were still in middle school, yet at the same time, total fucking rock stars. As soon as I noticed the bassist had the same haircut as Nikolai Fraiture, I realized the whole band looked like The Strokes. More importantly, they acted like them.
Unlike Small Black, who basically invented their own genre, The Horrors linger in the long shadow of shoegaze innovators The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. Fortunately, they more than hold their own with guitarist Joshua Hayward’s unbelievable guitar skills, effects pedal manipulation, and the band’s masterful control over their walls of noise. Like on “Dive In”, when vocalist Faris Badwan breathes, “Let it go!” and the entrancing raga reverb disappears and suddenly you’re left with your own ringing ears before the song builds back up again, instrumental layer by layer.
That’s all without going on record that Joshua Hayward may be one of the best guitarists of our generation. His fingers skittered up and down the neck of his ’62 Jaguar as though possessed, and he operated the two horizontal feet of effects pedals in front of him with the dexterity of a tenured studio engineer. Hayward almost knocked over an amp during “Three Decades” while trying to create as much distortion as possible; but he could also just as quickly pull back with the rest of the band for the quieter moments, like Badwan’s ironic soliloquy on “Who Can Say”. If The Horrors are this preternaturally talented now, I can only imagine where they’ll be in a few years.
Small Black Setlist:
The Horrors Setlist:
Changing The Rain
Who Can Say
I Can See Through You
Sea Within A Sea
Moving Further Away