Starsick – Buffalo – Showplace Theater, NY – 2002-06-05

Where: Buffalo – Showplace Theater, NY.

When: 2002-06-05

The Showplace Theater is an ugly place. Formerly an old theater, all the seats were ripped out, so you have to stand upon an incline that makes you feel far drunker than you are, or you can stand on a flat platform that reverberates with sound so badly you’d think someone put a few dozen quarters in the Craftmatic Bed o’ Love. But the place was big, big enough even for the major label stars-in-their-eyes Trail of Dead to play to a full but not sold-out crowd.

We missed Starsick, except to hear the singer say “thank you, goodnight” like a good little rock star. But Secret Machines set the stage for a bad night. First, the positives. The band was conscientious, to say the least. They merged their songs together so you never had to worry about applauding until the end, and the only lights they used were four bright spotlights that shone up (so not into our eyes) and turned the musicians into silhouettes, presumably so we wouldn’t have to partake in their unsightly appearances. Unfortunately, the negatives are the band’s songs, of which there were only three, but they felt like one obnoxiously long song, and there could have been more that were so similar they blurred together. Definitely falling into the realm of stoner rock, the trio of guitar, drums, and keyboards/organs did nothing over and over again. The poor drummer played the same basic beat, then switched to a new one for a while, the back to the old one again so that you were almost lulled to sleep. It wasn’t terrifically bad, just completely unmemorable and boring. When we knew we should clap at the end, few of us had any energy left.

The Trail of Dead have arrived. You know that when they have a road crew to set up the stage and tune the guitars in between songs and the like. Yes, friend, they are Rock Stars. They were also, apparently, very high or drunk or something. For while I am assured that this Texas band is impressive live, and while I very much enjoy the songs from their new album, Source Tags and Codes, and their previous EP, Madonna, they were absolutely terrible tonight. So bad, in fact, that one person I was with left furious both for the money and the time they deprived him of. I was inclined to agree.

First of all, their sound check consisted of seeing how loud the instruments could be adjusted without inducing vomiting, or at least much of it. The music was so loud that I left with a vicious headache. But volume is ok if the band is good. They started with three or four songs that sounded very similar to their album, and without much enthusiasm, I still thought they would be passable. From there, the band descended into prog-metal meets punk-rock territory, only coming out for some of the crowd favorites from Source Tags.

The best songs were those sung by the bassist, who took on a guitar at times and who had energy without the obvious pretentiousness of the main singer/guitarist. That gentleman had issues, as he swiped away the mic stand, went to his knees, leaped into the crowd, swore about a barrier in front of the stage, and ranted Creed- or Smashing Pumpkins-like about how Jesus didn’t die for HIS sins. Band members went into the crowd several times, or laid on their back to half-whisper, half-shout into the mic about this or that, completely indecipherable. The drummer took a hand on mic for several wasted songs, as the singer performed on drums passably.

What bothered me the most were not the moments of drawn-out, set-ending theatrics that turned 3-minute songs into 7-minute blasts, nor the fact that the band talked about At the Drive-In as a major influence and then copped Fugazi in their sung/spoken vocal style and the Ramones in their punk-rock noisescapes. What bothered me most were these long, rambling, noisy and chaotic songs that would have the singer singing or whispering or shouting or talking into the mic as the guitarists wanked away, blistering their fingers and going absolutely nowhere. It could have been the same song over and over. I wasn’t paying attention anymore.

I was assured later that standing near the sound guys and imbibing many mixed drinks make the set reasonably enjoyable. But I know if I saw this band live before hearing their album, I would never buy anything from them. They were too loud, too punk, and too pretentious. When they trashed their drums and guitar at the end, it felt staged and required. Maybe they signed to a major label just so they could have enough cash to trash their instruments every night. I guess that’s how you know you’ve made it. I have yet to recover from my Trail of Dead-induced headache.