At the beginning of every quarter at UCSC, I always create a list. On this list are all the shows that are coming up during that quarter that I know I just have to see. On March 13th as I took the overcrowded 16 bus down from Crown College to the forsaken depths of the Santa Cruz Metro Center and crossed the streets to the Catalyst, there was one last concert I had to cross of my list. It was a concert to perfectly wrap up the Winter quarter at UCSC. That concert was A Place to Bury Strangers.
Now, for those who might be unfamiliar with A Place to Bury Strangers, they are a noise rock/shoegaze band that got their start in Brooklyn, New York around 2003. After releasing their first album in 2007, the band received much critical acclaim while also being compared to bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain or Suicide. After the release of their second album, “Exploding Head”, in 2009, their popularity skyrocketed. Since then, A Place to Bury Strangers have put out two albums with their most recent album, “Transfixiation”, being released this past February.
As for A Place to Bury Stranger’s live show, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. The two openers that were playing that night, Burnt Palms and Creepoid, both played fairly decent sets. There was nothing too special about the set itself, but it was mainly a live version of their recorded material presented on a dimly lit stage. This isn’t to say that they weren’t good performances, but it was fairly standard as to how shows are presented visually at the Catalyst. As the night went on, I was mainly expecting the A Place to Bury Strangers set to be much of the same. Boy, was I wrong.
As Creepoid were playing their last song and the unpacking their stuff off to the side of the stage, some of the members of A Place to Bury Strangers were coming on stage and brought on the rest of their gear. Most of A Place to Bury Stranger’s gear, such as the humongous amplifiers, cabinets, and drum kit, were already present on-stage since the show started. Then, the band starts bringing out projectors, strobe lights, and fog machines. At this point, I was more excited than a caffeinated squirrel in a peanut factory. I wondered what A Place to Bury Strangers had in store for the audience that could involve such an intricate stage set-up. As a final pièce de résistance, the guitarist brought out his pedal board and his guitar. This wasn’t just any guitar though. It was a Fender Jaguar modified to have the pick-ups be turned on and off like a Jazzmaster. What made this guitar special was that it was the most beat up, scratched, discolored guitar I’ve ever seen. The paint was almost entirely gone, there was a chunk missing a the bottom of the body, and the neck looked like it was going to break off at any second. Before I have time to think about how the guitar was even together, the lights go out and the show starts.
What was just three guys on stage turns into an all out frenzy. Guitarist and vocalist Oliver Ackermann is running around on stage and going insane as stock footage is projected onto him and strobe lights constantly go on and on making the concert look like a series of projected images. Oliver was literally throwing his guitar up in the air, letting it fall to the ground, and picking it up as if nothing happened. He does this several times while almost crashing into their bassist Dion Lunadon or the drummer Robi Gonzalez. Oliver only took brief break to grab the microphone at its stand to sing lyrics that couldn’t be heard over the overwhelming wall of noise emanating from monolithic cabinets and amplifiers occupying the back of the stage. Dion was bent over playing his bass with an extreme amount of focus and Robi turned his long hair into a matted wet mop from his furious drumming. Keep in mind, this was only the first song.
Throughout the rest of the set, the madness continued. Videos from the projectors were projecting images onto the walls, audience, and band to accompany the ear shattering music. Strobe lights were constantly turned on and off. Fog machines produced more fog than the entire San Francisco bay area on a cold morning. By the end of the set, you could barely see anything unless you were right up the front of the stage. Sometimes Dion would be on guitar and Oliver would be n bass just to mix up the madness that was happening on stage. By then end of the set, the members slowly phased themselves out of the set starting with Robi ending with drums furiously beaten. Dion walked off stage soon after letting his bass feedback from the amp through his daisy chain of pedals. Oliver became the center of attention as the strobe lights slowly died out to the beat of the guitar strings being punched by Oliver’s fists. Oliver then walks off stage with his guitar and the set ended, but the lights never turned back on.
Everybody at the front was wondering why the lights were not on as they slowly made their way toward the merchandise table or one of the exits. Everybody in the back knew what was actually going on. A Place to Bury Strangers were doing an encore performance in the back of the audience with Creepoid. There were two drummers, two bassists, three guitarists, and one singer all performing together in perfect harmony as Oliver is haphazardly singing into a mic sticking out of the side of the mixing console being used to manage the sound of the whole performance. People were so close that a person could be accidentally pushed or shoved and they would knock over an entire drum kit. Luckily, order was maintained throughout the entire break-taking encore performance accompanied by a dazzling portable laser light show that provided the only light to make entire encore visible to the audience. By the time it was over, nobody could hear but everybody in that room wanted to experience it again.
More photos from A Place to Bury Strangers’s set: flic.kr/s/aHsk8FP5oE
Music by Burnt Palms: burntpalms.bandcamp.com
Music by Creepoid: creepoid.bandcamp.com
Video for Straight off of Transfixiation by A Place to Bury Strangers: youtube.com/watch?v=D7iG_s4PJM8
All photos by Brandon Oleksy