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Bell HollowDrop Dead Festival
Knitting Factory, New York City
Day 3: Sunday September 3 2006

Bands in order of appearance:
Bell Hollow
Submarine Fleet
Deadfly Ensemble
Signal And Report
Bohemien
Lene Lovich

 

If there's a general view of what the Drop Dead festival is all about, I suppose it's this: it's a shindig aimed squarely at the be-mohawked deathrock hordes, where a non-stop array of bands who look like they've been dragged through a horror movie backwards sing songs about eating zombies for breakfast.

Well, yes, it is all about that stuff, sure. But it's also about post-punk music in a wider sense, and this year in particular the festival includes a selection of bands who, jointly and severally, represent what you might call the post-punk hinterland. Tonight's bill features a smattering of those bands, and the first of them is Bell Hollow.

Taking their cue from what you might call the Bunnymenesque end of things, Bell Hollow are all about atmosphere and understated drama. Their songs exist on the cusp of tension and resolution, on that fine line between the cerebral and the visceral. You can taste the influences here and there: the aforesaid Bunnymen are definitely represented in the recepie, plus a touch of the Comsat Angels, a morsel of Morrissey, perhaps. But the band have their own identity. You can tell where they're coming from, but the place where they're going is all their own.

The singer, tall, spare, and somewhat other-worldly, injects little flourishes into the vocal lines, but - fortunately - always reins back from giving it the full Bono. The band always knows just how far to take it. The sound is impressively clear, and I can't figure out if that's down to the song arrangements, which seem designed to give every Submarine Fleetinstrument its own space to breathe, or whether the band have eschewed the one-amp-fits-all shared equipment in favour of using their own backline. Either way, it works. The set culminates in a flurry of guitar effects, a sudden mash-up of sound at once at odds with the band's usual sonic pallette and yet neatly part of it.

Looking like a posse of professors on a spree, Submarine Fleet seem endearingly un-rock 'n' roll. The vocalist looms quizzically at the mic as if about to deliver a lecture on Etruscan pottery; the guitarist, wearing a velvet jacket (he's obviously the bohemian of the staff room) weaves around on stage as if trying to dodge the flying fragments of music he's wrenching from his instrument.

The vocals are smooth and strong, and the overall impression is of a kind of psychedelic after-darkness, a dense mass of sound boiling up like steam from the sidewalks, but with detail and little shafts of light in there, too. For all the guitarist's gyrations, Submarine Fleet seem a fairly self-effacing bunch, content to stand in the half-light and let the music assert itself. But, low key though they might be, they're good.
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Deadfly EnsembleAnd now, the jokers in the pack. Deadfly Ensemble are, of course, Cinema Strange frontman Lucas Lanthier's other band, a kind of gone-wrong folk theatre troupe which, on this occasion, favours us with a performance on a sporting theme. So, in between wyrd-folk anthems which may or may not relate to the subject at hand, we get a brief and violent game of chess, a learned exposition on The Ball, and sundry pearls of sporting wisdom delivered by Lucus from his vantage point on a pair of ice skates. All this, and a string section. Hey, that's showbiz.

It must be said that were it not for the Cinema Strange connection, which I think is the main factor that ensures the attention of the crowd, I suspect that Deadfly Ensemble would have a much more difficult time of it on stage. If a bunch of complete strangers plonked this kind of whimsy in front of the Drop Dead crowd, I predict that robust heckling might well break out.

But Lucas Lanthier has built up certain amount of indulgence-credit with the Bank of Drop Dead, and he's not afraid to make a hefty withdrawal. Could the Deadfly Ensemble hold their own away from the deathrock scene, away from that audience who knows him and is prepared to go along with his ideas and tangents and japes? I don't know. But here, it works.
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Signal And ReportHere's the thing that grabs you about Signal And Report: the band's guitarist/vocalist is a boiling mass of tension, a human pressure cooker, wrenching out his vocals as if spontaneous human combustion is a very real possibility. And yet, alongside him, the band's keyboard player keeps her cool as effortlessly as if she's on an altogether different stage.

The contrast is eye-catching, and the sound isn't bad, either. A big, ripped-up racket that has all the teeth-clenched energy of punk, but played with a certain control which, if anything can be said to be so, is surely the defining factor of post-punk. Signal And Report's sound combines a certain rasp and roar, but even the most abrasive elements of the music are positioned with exactitude. When the singer gets stressed, it's an unsettling thing to watch, but something tells me he's worked out exactly how far he can push it.
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BohemienIncongruously, in a way, after the not-at-all-gothic bands we've seen so far, Bohemien bring us back to the goth zone. Returning to Drop Dead by popular demand after going down well last year, the band's puckish singer, a smile playing about his lips, leads his combo through a set of neatly-done gothic rock grooves.

It must be said (in fact I think I said it last time I reviewed Bohemien, at Drop Dead '05) that the band are, whe all's said and done, followng a very familiar blueprint. There are no real surprises in their sound, but they do the straight-up goth thing with a touch of style and a certain glammed-up flair, and of course the singer makes an engaging and genial host. It's easy to see why the band hit the spot with the audience: if it's goth stuff you want, they do the right thing well.
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Lene Lovich now appears with her full band - or, perhaps I should say, her band of Drop Dead all-stars. As well as the genial presence of Les Chappell on guitar, there's James Powell of Deadfly Ensemble on bass, Michael Ribiat of Cinema Strange on keyboards, and Justin-the-drummer out of Din Glorious on drums. (This, incidentally, counts as the fifth band I've seen at Drop Dead that has featured some sort of Din Glorious involvement, which must amount to some sort of art statement in itself). This time it's a classics 'n' faves set that sprawls mightily over the oldies. Selections from Lene's extensive back catalogue are delivered with a gleeful punch and a huge, full sound that belies the fact that this is, essentially, a pick-up band.

The musicians work so well together you could swear they'd been touring for decades. James Powell's constant bouncing - he spends the entire set in a state of permanent pogo - is particularly impressive. And Lene herself is on marvellous form, a good-Lene Lovichhumoured idiosyncratic auntie, a kind of beatnik countess of a surreal cabaret, unleashing her voice and taking us on a heteroclite flight, her vocal acrobatics seeming so effortless although I'd defy any other singer to match them. 'Say When' rattles like a train, 'Lucky Number' never sounded so downright danceable.

Of the new songs, only 'Wicked Witch' makes an appearance, but it's an instant anthem, and the crowd seethes as one. An extended - and surprisingly emotional - 'Home' brings things to a big conclusion, and the gusts of applause leave the band grinning delightedly and Lene visibly moved.

It's a moment that encapsulates what the Drop Dead Festival is all about. Mohawks and zombies? Yeah, bring 'em on. But at the heart of it all, it's the music - varied, creative, rooted in the post-punk undergrowth - that matters.

 

 

Essential links:

Bell Hollow: Website | Myspace
Submarine Fleet: Website | Myspace
Deadfly Ensemble: Website | Myspace
Signal And Report: Website | Myspace
Bohemien: Website | Myspace
Lene Lovich: Website | Myspace

Drop Dead Festival: Website | Myspace

 

Back to Drop Dead Festival 2006 - Day 2

For more photos from the Drop Dead Festival, find the bands by name here.

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson..
Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston, Red N version by Mark Rimmell.