The most immediately interesting thing about Tuesday's show backstage at the Black Cat? The pairing of the quiet and personal Des_Ark with Pinebender, one of the heaviest, loudest live acts around. For fans of either earsplitting, sludgy hard rock or singer-songwriter tenderness, the Black Cat was the place to be this night, and although the artists were vastly different, they were equally endearing.
Pinebender eased the crowd into their music, taking their time building up from a single distorted guitar. As the second guitar and the drums filled out the sound, the chit-chatting among the crowd slowly faded. But that would have been a non-issue, anyway, because a few minutes in, the band leapt from patient crescendo into deafening, melodic noise, an impressively full -- and loud -- sound for a trio.
If you listen closely, you can hear where the band's riffs come from -- and Pinebender's riffage rivals anyone's. Behind the deep, distorted noise, these guys are leaning on the same source material as all good rock bands have. R&B and soul. Blues and country. They call it roots music for a reason. But many might not spot it through all that heavy sound. Certainly, it's easier to recognize on record. Listening to 2006's criminally under-appreciated "Working Nine to Wolf," you realize no band that plays this slow has ever been this heavy, but still, you're not prepared for this live onslaught.
Which is not to say it's all loud all the time. There's a lot of light and shade as the band plods along, and the quieter moments -- the crescendo and build up -- make their heavy jamming much more intense and moving. Pinebender travels in a similar musical territory as Seattle's grunge bands -- with a little of their native Chicago's math rock and post rock in the mix -- but the trio avoids categorization in any of those genres. What they have is an epic sound completed by Chris Hansen's gravelly vocals, angry and moody and introspective and reminiscent of Eric Bachmann (Archers of Loaf, Crooked Fingers).
It all came together on the show closer, "Parade of Horribles," a 15-minute journey through dark texture, experimental distortion, brutal drum beating, swells of guitar noise, false endings and impassioned vocals. The crowd had thinned by this point, though. Seems the Des_Ark fans in attendance weren't ready for such mad, electric power. Many people watched the band with fingers stuck in their ears, but slowly they gave up and left. Earplugs were everywhere, though. Pinebender's fans knew what they were in for. Some even brought spare plugs to share with the unsuspecting.
In stark contrast, Des_Ark's Aimee Argote put on a sparse, quiet solo show, alternating between banjo and acoustic guitar. Alternating between music and flighty banter. There was probably more of the latter, which was actually fine because it was surprisingly engaging. Hers was a much more personal performance.
Argote's songs are moving and witty enough alone, but they were even more so as she shared their source, the stories behind them, and hence good helpings of her own story. A stunning openness. At times, she seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but she was humble and genuine, sitting in front of the stage with much of the audience sitting on the backstage floor. And she was entertaining as she spoke. Her train of thought took her back to childhood games, to razzing her record label (and getting razzed in response), to friends in the audience.
The songs themselves were performed with the same sincere feeling. She seemed near tears at times as she sang with that unique, feral voice. And her playing was all punky folk from Appalachia.
No one who didn't already know better would've guessed what was coming next.