It’s hard to know what to expect when the band you’re about to see has roots in both the hardcore and shoegaze communities – you could either walk away with severely dampened spirits or a pair of black eyes. Fortunately I was able to walk out of Nothing’s Thursday night show at Chicago’s probably-haunted Subterranean with neither, the only fatalities being temporary hearing damage and a suddenly-rational fear of being trampled at a shoegaze show. If you’re not familiar with the abusive slip-on-Vansgaze of the moody Philadelphia-based quartet, imagine what an east coast hardcore punk band like Blacklisted would sound like if they’d grown up on My Bloody Valentine, spent a few years soul searching, and ended their spiritual vagrancy with very disappointing answers.
Needless to say, the the mood at Subterranean was hard to pin down – the tattooed hands of those around me in the what-would-be pit seemed to wring in anticipation as local noisemakers Torture Love formulated a funereal solemnity which was difficult to reciprocate with more than mere courteous and sympathetic nods. After wrapping up their set with banana-stifled shouts (“yup, that’s Matt” the singer’s co-worker repeated to me several times with a chuckle as he recalled the spectacle, as if eating bananas and shouting was a typical Matt-ism), local dreamgaze cool-uncles Airiel brought the inscrutable heft with melodies unrestrained and whammy aplenty. Like Torture Love and the headliner, Airiel’s abstract expressionism reached its pinnacle at the end of the set as the band left their instruments stuttering reverb as they left the stage one by one (some more violently than others – apparently the demolition of a guitar is all it took to get a rise out of the sepulchral crowd).
As several stage-crowders backed out while Nothing set up, I reflected upon the impending ruination of my eardrums, and like those around me, accepted the fact that Nothing’s sonic nihilism may very well be the last thing we ever hear. To ensure general glumness, the band kicked off their set with a recording of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Devil Town’ – perhaps a lyrical summation of frontman Domenic Palermo’s aforementioned spiritual research – and immediately dug straight into the excavational contact hitter ‘Dig.’ Right off the bat it was apparent that there was little point in miking Palermo and co-vocalist Brandon Setta, as the immense wall of noise being emitted from their amps left little room for oral output (given these guys’ resumes, not much was expected in terms of angelic inside voices).
While the band mostly assumed the semblance of a typical shoegaze act (despite the physical appearance of flamboyantly straight-edge hardcore rockers), bassist Nick Bassett was granted apt acreage onstage to be as active as one can while wielding his slender instrument, and Palermo, channeling his reckless roots, hopped offstage during ‘Get Well’s’ crunchy outro to make a beeline through the audience, encouraging minimal jocular violence amongst the seemingly-pleased hand-tatted population. Kyle Kimball, shirtless drummer and vengeful Cillian Murphy doppelganger, served as the hectic percussive anchor remarkably out of his comfort zone in a band like Nothing, somehow making him the perfect candidate for the band. Setta, also brandishing guitar, kindly asked that the light over his head be turned off at the beginning of their set and remained in the shadows ‘til set’s end.
There were few moments of earblood-coagulating silence, as most of the band’s songs were strung together with other audio samples which were difficult to recognize over the squeals resonating from the previous songs, but recalled the mid-album readings of Titus Andronicus. Presumably it was the leftover wailing scuzz that wooed them back onstage for a one-song encore in which their expressionism evolved into an interactive exhibit when Palermo handed off his guitar to be passed around the audience (a kind gesture which, unfortunately, did little more than baffle the audience, myself included). It was as if Pollock was lending out his paintbrush for others to contribute to his splatter painting, and with that the night ended on a lighter note than many of us deemed possible.