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Concert Review/ Caspian & Constants

img  Tobias Fischer

The first lesson for any aspiring Post-Rock correspondent is, by all means, to avoid that dreaded question: „Why don't you, like, use vocals in your songs?“ And yet, it is heartening to see the stigmatised roles of support and headliner for once reversed on tonight's bill, with the instrumental incisions of Caspian leading the complex lyrical convolutions of fellow Bostonians Constants. Even more encouraging is the fact that around a hundred anxious guests have found their way to this evening of anything-but-middle-of-the-road-sounds in a decidedly in-the-middle-of-nowhere-club. And yet, the attendance speaks volumes about the power of music to fill even the most desolate of places with life, hope and meaning: The Bahnhof Langendreer, a spankingly  clean alternative cultural centre is part of an applaudable effort of cleaning up the image of Langendreer, a withered accumulation of past-their-prime-houses with flaking finery, as one of Bochum's least attractive districts – and the visit of these two formidable formations at the forefront of their respective genres testimony to the organisors' efforts of attracting just the right bands to fill the vacuum.

Constants, for one, are certainly up to the job. With their massive, uncompromising sound and conceptual ambitions, they could probably fill entire black holes. Shrunk to the size of a trio again after shedding their five-men-plus stage-show, they have become, if anything, an even more ebullient and brawny proposition. With regards to the task ahead of them, they had to, in a way: Their second full-length „The Foundation, the Machine, the Ascension“, a colossal three-part epic based around „a being called Damien who exists in one place and is eternally searching for another“ according to the group on their MySpace-account, was more than just a stylistic shredding-act, pulverising Indie, Hardcore and Noise-Rock into an immersive, red-hot amalgam of strangely meditative qualities – it was a veritable statement of intent to leave the job of imitation to others and forge a distinct identity of their own. Playing some of the apocalyptic Synthesizer-themes from tape and triggering additional Guitar-parts with pedals at his feet, frontman Will Benoit is however keeping the demanding arrangements of the work together with apparent ease.

While communication between the members is telepathic and of a trance-like tightness, their efforts of conveying the same contiguous combination between anthemic melodicism and monolithic aggression are slightly hampered by the acoustic properties of the former trainstation's main hall: Thanks to a brutal distortion of the bass-frequencies, the cinematic wall-of-sound of „The Foundation, the Machine, the Ascension“ is transformed into an all but impenetrable dome of subsonics, feedback and sheets of granular particles. Trying to stay on top of this shifting mass is turning into a daunting mission for Benoit, who delivers his lines with more tangible hurt and poignancy than on record. The majestic splendour of pieces like „Genetics like Chess Pieces“ still shines through, though and thanks to the powerful concentration of Bassist Orion Wainer and the dizzying acrobatics of Drummer Rob Motes, the performance stays engaging for its entire duration. It is especially when Benoit focuses on churning out torsos of seething powerchords and the band loose themselves in hypnotic, shamanistic rock-rituals that Constants transcend the spare around them and truly lift off.

The gig has gotten off to a later-than-planned start, so Caspian are wasting no time picking up the baton. The opening is reserved for a choral Ambient-piece, but when the Quintet launch themselves into the chunky progressions of „La Cerva“, one notices with astonishment how similar, on stage, their aesthetics are to those of Constants and how close to Metal some of their material is when performed at this earsplitting volume and bone-shattering intensity. While full-lengths such as „The Four Trees“ and, most recently, „Tertia“, rightly stuck out because of their intricate instrumentations, ambient interludes, emotional motives and clearly differentiated parts, it is suddenly easy to understand the initially odd assertion that the band are operating in a territory similar to that of early Aereogramme - and it also helps to explain why one audience member is sporting a Mogwai-t-shirt for the occasion. In concert, Caspian are, above all, about in-your-face riff-orgies with heavenly melodies of scintillating harmonics hovering on top. Watching the band dissolve in this self-created storm is a sight to behold, a phalanx of four axeman collectively headbanging their way into ecstasy, with Joe Vickers' beats almost drowned out by the distorted mayhem.

Relistening to „Tertia“ in the train on the way to Bochum, it struck me that perhaps the biggest mark of distinction of this record was its insistence on a long tension arch and a great sense of dynamics, with slow, quiet pieces such as endearing, acoustic ballad „Concrescence“ taking turns with electronic Dub-experiments like „The Raven“ and fully-fledged rocker „Of Foam and Wave“. Here, however, these careful differentiations are blown away by the ferocious and almost confrontational performance of the band, whose brainchilds quickly grow from tiny thematic cells into theatrical sonic projections. „Malacoda“ is all raw Punk-power and defiance, „Moskha“ a slow-burning monster hatching from Calvin Joss' crystalline Glockenspiel-motive, „Crawlspace“ an energetic electrical discharge in which Caspian are probably at their most relentless. The set-list is a seamless blend of their two first albums and reveals that even though the band have never stopped to progress and mature, there is still the same irrepressible enthusiasm beating underneath their skin.

On the penultimate piece of the set, while violently jumping and contorting themselves and their instruments, Philip Jamieson breaks a pre-amp and for a second, it seems as though the gig will have to end right there. It is a moment of utmost frustration for the musicians, but for the audience a much-needed and -appreciated moment to catch their breath. The band have left the podium, a silky light-drone is floating in the air and other than that, the only sound is Jamieson moving on stage, plugging in different cables to see if this will remedy the situation. Finally, he decides to play his part through an on-stage Marshall and the rest of the formation rejoin him for a rendition of their traditional euphoric closer „Sycamore“. While the opening section is of a tender fragility, Erin Burke-Moran's silvery licks dancing on top like moonrays on a midnight lake, Caspian gradually intensify the density of their textures, until there is nothing left but a shimmering cloud of overtones and feedback and every band member, save Bassist Chris Friedrich has gathered round the drum kit to add polyrhythmic snare-fusillades to the metrum. Abruptly, the harmonies disappear, leaving nothing but this tribal groove, which pounds monotonously like an Indian mantra for a few seconds, then builds into a thundering crescendo and crashlands into silence.

Because of the technical issues, there can be no encore today. Jamieson returns for a brief thank-you-note, promising to come back with more songs in November, but there is no need for long speeches tonight. As Depeche Mode knew so well, words are like violence and vocals could never do justice to the impact of these seemingly simple tunes anyway.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Constants
Homepage: Caspian
Homepage: Bahnhof Langendreer Bochum

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