Saturday, March 26, 2011

Live Review - Glassjaw @ Best Buy Theater

Glassjaw Live at Best Buy Theater 3/24/11
by Rock(jock)*

The Best Buy Theater hosted exactly what you would expect from a Glassjaw show--an odd set from an odd band. Darryl Palumbo and the rest of the gang definitely put on a performance worthy of their near-mystic status but something about the entire night.

Doors opened at 7 but the venue never even approached capacity until minutes before Glassjaw took the stage. Granted, openers Mind Over Matter didn't start until almost 8:30 but with as much hype as Glassjaw shows generates, it felt unsettling to see such a sleepy crowd.

The two opening bands did their best to energize those who bothered showing up. Based on the frenzied pit, one would think they succeeded. Having avoided the hardcore scene for the most part, Long Island legends Mind Over Matter and Vision of Disorder did a lot to erase negative connotations associated with the genre the both heavily influenced. Far more diverse than their peers, the bands exhibited the same category-defiant performance the headliners likely learned from watching M.O.M. and V.O.D. back in the early Nineties. Progressive, experimental, alternative, spacey--they encompassed all those elements and enforced them with hardcore's signature bone-crushing blast beats. Visions of Disorder and Mind Over Matter represented the antithesis of everything you think you hate about hardcore and deserve reverence both in and outside the scene.

Glassjaw arguably outpaced these predecessors' over the past decade, ascending to an even higher cult status, due in no small part to the mystery surrounding the band (something Mind Over Matter took a not-so-subtle jab at during their set). A long-rumored follow-up to 2002's Worship & Tribute became the Chinese Democracy of post-hardcore. The band merely titillated fans with an EP or demo here and there while Palumbo's health problems and various side projects, including Head Automatica, which reminded us that we deserve more from our pop music. As the hiatus continued with false promises of a new record dating all the way back to 2007, it wasn't until last year Glassjaw finally released new material. When they did, it manifested as two separate EPs, leaving fans wondering if together the records comprised the long-awaited third album or if that remained an unfinished product.

Assuredly, most know this well-documented history already but it provides an important backdrop for Glassjaw's second performance at Best Buy since the start of 2011. It remains unclear what caused some fans to leave the show with an odd taste in there mouths but it's clear they shoulder some of the blame. Even after the set began with two new songs from the Coloring Book EP (which everyone received a free copy of on the way out), it wasn't until Glassjaw launched into classic material that fans even acknowledged Palumbo and crew's presence. In fact any new material from Coloring Book (which is readily available online thanks to the free giveaways at shows) brought the concert to a screeching halt--disappointing considering it is easily among Glassjaw's best work. The crowd's indifference most awkwardly reared its ugly head when the band finished the set. The inevitability of an encore came into question thanks to the oppressive silence that enveloped the venue. It took a full two minutes before those in attendance mustered one of the weakest and shortest band chants ever witnessed. After what felt like the eternity, Palumbo and company lazily filed back on stage with the wind clearly taken out of their sails. One can only guess, but it seemed plausible based on the band's demeanor they cut the encore short, playing only two songs from Coloring Book. Their stage exit was abrupt and surprising, leaving some disappointed with the notable omission of classic material, including Glassjaw's arguably biggest hit, "Ape Dos Mil."

It sounds like an oxymoron but the confused, slightly unfulfilled air about the departing crowd almost improved the experience. For all the mystique Glassjaw engenders, a smooth show would have felt out of place. People flock to Glassjaw not just for the music but the spectacle. That requires typical rock star antics, which Palumbo delivered in spades.

In between songs, the frontman closed in on himself. Even his stage banter, while amusing, became muffled. The effect of his well-documented battle with Crohn's disease manifested itself in an almost physical way as he shuffled across the stage, seemingly trying to hide from the thousands of eyes affixed on his every movement. Palumbo rarely interacted with his bandmates, who symmetrically filled put the stage, each with their own little pod of amps and stage lights, appearing scared to leave their designated spaces.

But as soon as the music kicked in, Palumbo's wiry frame metamorphosed into an Ecstasy-fueled love child of Mick Jagger and Freddy Mercury. Despite his markedly odd appearance, Palumbo exuded sex appeal as he erotically gyrated across the stage and put on a one man show. The rest of the band, despite their confinement, provided the perfect backdrop for Palumbo, allowing him to take center stage but still dazzling the crowd with nothing but their technical aptitude. Their exquisite musicianship shined through especially well in the aforementioned new material, which sees the band take a Deftones-like experimental approach to their sound.

None of it was enough to dispel the unfulfilled feeling upon leaving the theater but maybe there in lies Palumbo's genius. Live shows from a band as enigmatic as Glassjaw are hit or miss affairs that somehow still leave you wanting more--yet another contradiction from a band that personifies the very word.

***Rock(jock) is Kyle Andruckeiwicz who is a corresponding writer to Officially A Yuppie.