March 9, 2004

Pelican: Your home stereo pales in comparison to the real thing

I was waiting for my friends to arrive outside the Bottom Lounge when I noticed the door handle quivering. I quickly rubbed my eyes—thinking that I had spent a little too much time in the library stacks earlier in the evening—but a second stare confirmed the fact that the solid brass handle was indeed pulsating to some unknown beat.

I was puzzled. What on earth was shaking the door? Were they doing construction on the Belmont stop half a block north? No, couldn't be. That was too far away. I swore I heard some hammering—the oddly rhythmic thumping that is instantly familiar to anyone who ever suffered through years of shop classes and manual labor. I scrutinized the door, wondering if the Bottom Lounge was structurally sound. After all, what kind of club needs in-house carpenters?

Minutes later, my friends found me staring at the door and almost left. After a series of hasty explanations, they agreed that I was sane enough. We opened the vibrating door and found ourselves confronted by a tiny bouncer and a gigantic tidal wave of eardrum-shattering noise.

One of the oddest things about living in a large city is how it desensitizes you to loud noises. Between the apocalyptic rumblings of the El, noisy bars, and the constant barrage of sirens and screeching brakes that make up the South Side soundtrack, it is a wonder that I can even hear to the modest degree that I do.

And so it was most surprising to actually come face-to-face with a concert so incredibly loud that all conscious thought was eliminated (and my very physical frame felt threatened). Beers sitting on the bar shook and foamed over. Walking through the wall of sound was like wading through a pool of Jell-O. This was not volume. I know volume, and it never ever beat me into submission like this.

We showed the man our IDs, scribbled our names on the tiny guest list and claimed our free passes. I slogged through the bar towards the stage, hoping to catch a glimpse of the terrible titans who were responsible for such mayhem.

Onstage, the aptly-named Destroyer were busy leaking metallic sludge into the air. Consisting of two drummers, two deranged guitarists, and a bassist who thudded and staggered around the stage, Destroyer was the kind of band who seemed to be real nice guys off stage—a band who, in high school, wore Man o' War shirts, hated gym class as much as I did, and religiously taped Headbanger's Ball.

While Destroyer were as far from my cup of tea as one can get without talking about Pat Boone, I refrained from heckling or throwing what was left of my overpriced whiskey sour at them. No sir—I respect a band who can make a good din. But still I sought a quiet place, and I descended the dingy stairs to the bathroom, only to be confronted with Brazilian speed metal. "No peace for the wicked," I muttered and hid.

Finally, the decibels dwindled to tolerable levels, and follow-up act Timeout Drawer began setting up their equipment. A local Mogwai-esque outfit that happens to be a favorite of mine, the Timeout Drawer can usually be counted on to play a good, intense set of melodic noise. We waited patiently.

However, instead of the normal, well-constructed chaos that usually begins a Timeout Drawer set, the band members found themselves dealing with the unwelcome confusion of sound problems. After spending several minutes with crosses and holy water—hunting out the small imps lurking in the club's sound system—the Timeout Drawer launched a drastically shortened set. While not as good as the band's earlier shows this year, (owing mostly to the club's sound problems and the long delay before beginning their set), the Timeout Drawer made the best of the situation given them, turning out a solid set of noisy harmonies and thrashing melodies.

The final act of the evening, Pelican, were the most enigmatic. A completely instrumental local metal band, Pelican's excellent new record walks the line between delicate melodies and full-on headbanging—often within the same song. We shouted among ourselves, wondering if such strong new material would translate well into a live show.

As it turns out, Pelican's live material is quite different from the stuff on their latest release, although it's still quite enjoyable. While the record affords the luxury of more complex arrangements and clear production, Pelican's live set showed off the mean, nasty side of these local boys—who proceeded to beat us about the temples with incredible musical precision.

After playing for a solid hour-and-a-half, they decided we'd had enough. They let us stagger into the night, eyes glazed and ears ringing—knowing full well we'd all be back for more when they next played. Only next time, I'm outsmarting them—I'm bringing earplugs.