Concert review: Grunge, hard core and art rock fuse with O’Brother and Junius at the Firebird, Saturday, February 25
Clad in Cobainesque red and black plaid, Tanner Merritt, lead singer of O’Brother, stood before a crowd of leather-wearing, hard-art-rock aficionados and pushed his falsetto voice into the microphone.
The opening of “Machines, Pt. 1″ unfolded and long-haired bassist Anton Dang pulled off righteous licks with amazing ease. His brother, Johnny Dang (with a similar mane), stole in with blinding guitar squeal as drummer Michael Martens built fill upon fill.
But before the headliners took the Firebird stage, Junius warmed up with a thick set of progressive, post-hardcore fare. The four-piece band brought the noise, blending wild guitar tones with thundering drums and hardcore singing. The smiling audience closed in and wondered how such a small band could be so loud, the sane among them pushing earplugs and balled-up, makeshift napkins into their ears.
O’Brother’s “Machines, Pt. 2,” from 2011′s “Garden Window” rose quietly from the fuzzed guitar carnage and the dual-drumming of Martens and fill-in guitarist Kyle Coleman (pausing from his guitar duties to crash a pair of stand-alone floor toms). The crowd lifted their beers and sang along to the quiet overture before the drums broke like a tidal wave, washing everything away.
Fan-favorite “The Great Release,” from 2009′s “The Death of Day,” bled out like an early Radiohead tune, shouted out by Merritt: “Swallow them down, it burns like fire. Your words are the Devil’s machine. Keep your breath, you’re leaking lies.”
The crowd devoured the mash-up of grunge and heavy, progressive post-hardcore. The feeling continued through the up-tempo “Lo.” The drums rocked the floor as they built toward the chorus like a six-stroke engine on fire. But I recall a cowbell in the background on the studio version.
On “Sputnik” Merritt achieved a Puddle of Mudd mixed with Brand New sensibility. Anton Dang swiped his hair through the air like a metal-head during the drop-time section. Toward the end, Merritt’s scream buckled the track like a railroad spike and propelled the venue toward an epic finish.
The introspective “Easy Talk (Open Your Mouth)” slid along with soaring falsettos from Merritt. The song held like a figure in the air as clean guitar folded around crashing drums. After the track, Merritt admitted to feeling sick, “I can’t sing for shit,” and told the crowd to expect a shortened set, just nine songs. The crowd mostly understood, with the exception of the douche in the corner who yelled, “Play more!”
O’Brother slipped into “Ascension.” Finger-picked, clean guitar gave way to palm-muting and floor-tom domination that worked together to give the track its foretold ascending feel. “Poison!” rolled out like a heathen’s battle cry, conjuring nail-spiked maces and war-painted faces as Merritt’s digital delay drenched vocals warbled, anticipating the impending murderous drop.
O’Brother closed its set with “Lay Down.” Merritt whispered the first part of the chorus before boldly shouting the solidifying statement of their most recent album: “I’ll lay down and grow right beneath your garden window.”
The crowd cheered wildly and clapped O’Brother off the stage for a beer and a handshake.