When you really think about it, stages are fucking stupid.
In some instances, I’ll concede that they’re necessary for physically elevating the performer(s), thereby allowing the audience to more easily observe whatever happens to be the action of the moment. For mega-famous singers and comedians and that whole ilk, perhaps a lofty platform is useful for keeping, eh, let’s call them “pathologically enthusiastic” stans, at several arms’ lengths.
But have punk bands — even “big” punk bands — ever needed stages? Did the majority of punks even ask for stages?
So kudos to London’s Slaves for striking back against the bullshittery that is stages last night (October 2) at O’Brien’s Pub. While the pair (who obviously should’ve named this project something else when they started it in 2012) played for a ballparked attendance of 90,000 at the Reading and Leeds Festivals a little more than a month ago, they appeared absolutely, brazenly comfortable smashing it out for the gang of maybe 60 who trekked down to Allston on a school night.
Singer/drummer Isaac Holman and electric-stringed instrument wielder Laurie Vincent spent, I donno, gonna guesstimate 63 percent of their set in the area usually designated for the evening’s entertainers, and the other 37 percent jaunting about O’Brien’s as their whimsy dictated. Frickin’ every band that ever plays anywhere asks the room something along the lines of “How you doin’ [insert city name here]?!” But Holman took the time to shake just about each of our hands and ask how we were on an individual-to-individual basis, which, let us not forget, was not remotely possible at Reading and Leeds.
This was shortly following the first of Vincent’s multiple hops across the room to climb the bar for a demonstration that would’ve recalled the film Coyote Ugly if the bartenders in that movie played guitar instead of danced for the kind of PG-13 titillation mandated by employment at a retrogressive drinkery chain.
If one were so inclined, one could speculate that Slaves consciously keep their aural components somewhat uncomplicated — which, to be clear, is not the same thing as “easy” — in order to maximize the potential for an intense in-person delivery. So that leaves us with an un-fucking-forgettable live show promoting the band’s tertiary album Acts of Fear and Love, which maaaaaybe isn’t the most essential record ever? Especially when it’s in de facto competition with product from at least three other rowdy guitar/drums duos I can think of off the top of my head?
Eh, but nevertheless, “The Hunter” off 2015’s Are You Satisfied? goes extra hard, and Holman’s execution of the night’s final number made me second-guess not only stages, but also bass drums, which I now realize are also fucking stupid and must be eliminated once and for all. Also, earlier on, one guy shouted at Slaves to “Shit your own leg off!” (Hope I’m quoting that right?) I still don’t know what that was about, but it seemed like he meant it in a nice way?
Strictly speaking, Boston’s Labor Hex are more like a patchwork of still-bloody, sewn-together chunks yanked from the the mutilated corpses of old bands than a “new band.” But their opening set felt new and exciting, and in this business, the idea of newness is much more important than its reality. The current versions of Labor Hex resonate like dudes who grew up on At The Drive-In and Sunny Day Real Estate, then reached adulthood, and discovered the only thing bleaker than their own desolate hearts is 60 spine-annihilating hours a week at the candy corn mines for $10 per and shitty benefits. They’re a pretty effin’ sick band, in other words. Photos by Barry Thompson; follow him on Twitter @barelytomson.