Unsane and BIG|BRAVE @ Kung Fu Necktie (12/19/17)

by Peter Ferris


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It sure is weird seeing a band that looks ten years older than your parents play music that sounds terrifying to just about any normal person.

Few hardcore bands seem to last more than three years, much less thirty. Unsane is not your traditional hardcore band in any sense, though. Since the MTV days, these guys have been tearing eardrums apart, and they sound no less savage today than they did in the ‘90s. Playing to a nearly sold-out crowd earlier this week at Kung Fu Necktie, they gave one of the tightest performances I’ve seen from any punk band this whole year. My eardrums might still be ringing, but it was a worthy price to pay for such a great experience.

Of course, Unsane weren’t the only thing to write home about from this gig. Supporting them on their tour was Montreal’s BIG|BRAVE, an experimental metal trio that are not afraid to test listeners’ patience levels. Their music is characterized by lengthy drone passages, a prominent focus on extreme volume (both loud and quiet), and sparse but powerful vocals from frontwoman Robin Wattie. And they certainly like to take their time; none of the songs on their latest record, Ardor, clock in below eleven minutes. Listening to their music doesn’t feel linear, and is instead more like traveling down an unmarked trail in the dark (that has lots of valleys and ditches) with instinct as the only guide.

Throughout their set, in which they played every track on Ardor, they captured this sensation quite well. Even after listening to the album a few times before the show, I was still caught off guard by their booming dual-guitar attacks and sudden percussive breaks. Wattie’s vocal chants seemed even more distant (perhaps because I was right against the stage and could barely hear anything after five minutes - wear earplugs, folks), yet urgent as if she were calling out to the audience for help five blocks down the road. If you ask me, this made their music sound so much more alive and dynamic. It may have still been difficult at times to focus on distinct aspects of their performance, but BIG|BRAVE’s set was still memorable because of their mastery of atmosphere and their ability to surprise the audience. If you already enjoy bands like Sunn O))), Earth, or Boris, and you have not listened to BIG|BRAVE yet, I highly recommend them.

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Nothing could have adequately prepared me for what Unsane had to offer, though. They didn’t waste any time, plowing through multiple tracks on their albums Scattered, Smothered & Covered and Occupational Hazard, while also performing songs from their new album, Sterilized. If you are even mildly interested in heavy music, you need to see this band if you get the chance. Frontman Chris Spencer still is able to howl like no one’s business, and his guitar tone was so brutal it sounded like a crew of chainsaws. One of my favorite songs from them, “Scrape”, somehow sounded even more intense on stage, and quickly incited lots of pushing and shoving in the audience. While Unsane’s music is relatively straightforward noise rock with a heavy emphasis on riffs and grooves, I was still amazed by how tight they were. With all of the noise going on, there was plenty of room for them to make mistakes and have them easily be covered up. But they were in total control of every aspect of their set while still maintaining a merciless onslaught of powerful tunes. No wonder they still maintain such a strong cult following.

Though BIG|BRAVE and Unsane’s sets were two entirely different experiences, I walked away from both feeling grateful for having seen them and eager to see what they do next. If there’s anything I may have learned from this show, it’s that age shouldn’t stop you from doing what you love. Even if what you love is playing loud music in a sweaty, crowded bar. And another thing...even if you think it’s a good idea in the moment, it’s probably not smart to start a mosh pit in an audience made up of people twice your size and age. Trust me. Don’t do it.

(I also want to give a shoutout to Child Bite, who were on this tour as well. Unfortunately, I was only able to catch the last two songs of their set, but please check them out as well if you like punk!)

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Chris DeFlitch