Photos by Kiki Vassilakis
From the darkness of The Hollow Bar + Kitchen, a thundering noise began. As the socializing audience snapped to attention (for the most part) there appeared onstage a flickering of light and pounding rock instrumental. To the sea of locals, city-dwellers and out-of-state fans, Slothrust (pictured) looked like giants.
The Brooklyn-based post-grunge trio had opened into “Surf Goth” without warning and would continue to do just so for nearly the entire set, taking a rare moment in between to tell snippets of backstory. Little theatrics ensued from onstage aside from the occasional thrashing of drummer Will Gorin. At times he seemed to throw his entire body at his kit and once his efforts were rewarded as the pounding percussion drew so much power that it send a cymbal flying. Bassist Kyle Bann manned his station in the corner, shaking out his shoulder-length curls to the beat while guitarist Leah Wellbaum shredded her way through each song, nearly expressionless.
“This is our first time in Albany,” she said behind a curtain of blonde hair, a few songs in. “Also my first time playing this guitar.” She held up the faux-wooden electric guitar to her face with a slight smile, one of the first movements of the night that didn’t include the effortless gliding of her fingers along her unfamiliar instrument.
“We’re getting to know each other.”
And soon they were good friends, as the venue was attacked again by a killer beat. The perfection of the trio’s instrumental play is overwhelming. When Wellbaum’s smart, quick-witted lyrics are thrown in, Slothrust rises above us all. The show was packed with crowd favorites from their recent October 2016 release, Everyone Else, with scattered hits for their day-one followers. The bouncing “7:30 am” from Of Course You Do swelled and burst, showcasing the band’s skill and adversity. At times it felt like folk-rock but suddenly the distortion breaks in and the verses of Wellbaum’s lyricism keep it grounded as she sings, “Carve it all up/ You’ll find nothing/To place upon your plate/Have no logic too much reason/It’s an admirable trait.”
Her voice is piercing in a way that reaches for you, but tonally it is rounded out as it bellows and bellows and thunders. The lyrics feel so personally connective they’re almost begging you to belt them out back to her in tracks like the deep-reaching “Horseshoe Crab” and spunky “Crockpot.” With high energy, skill-driven riffs and heavy blues rock and grunge influence, Slothrust’s sound crashed into their audience and washing them over before dragging them back to repeat the process all over again. Their full power laid in songs like “Mud”, that creeps up and explodes. “Rotten Pumpkin” and “Pseudo Culture” gave each band member the opportunity to hone in on all they had, and just let it rip. “I heard your hair grew/I heard you wear makeup/I heard you make up all of the stories you tell.” Wellbaum crooned low as she slowly spread her eyelids open with her pointer and middle finger while Gorin pounded out a backbeat. Her movements were slow and deliberate–at one point she spent half a song with her arm draped over her eyes.
It’s rare to see a group who plays this hard hold their place on stage with such a dry delivery but the lack of pageantry gave us a chance to digest just how much power this group holds. With a focus on sound without show, each song took on a life of its own, warping their players into creeping storytellers and hunching maestros.
Fellow Brooklyn band Ian Sweet helped open for the Slothrust with a indie rock set awash in psychedelic twisting lights that complimented the quirky trio. In songs like “Slime Time Live” lead singer Jillian Medford’s screeching vocals were nearly inaudible at times, lifting her up on her tiptoes and scrunching her face. Like their headliners, Sweet is precise and trained but use experimentation to put on a show. The highs reached by the singer complimented the grooving bass of Damien Scalise who played with aplomb. Drummer Tim Cheney held it down with his reliable, fast-paced percussion. The group was on point, and constantly picking them selves up. “We’re at a B+, I wanna take us to an A,” Medford said playfully mid-set. They took the time to get comfortable with their stage space as Medford and Scalise spun and jumped enthusiastically, ending their set in a head to head that brought them to their knees.
Albany opener Jouska (pictured below) brought in an excellent turnout for their farewell show before setting out on a month-long tour the next morning. They were off to meet fellow hometown heroes Prince Daddy and the Hyena in the midwest. But tonight they brought their A-game. Their grinding, heavy sound dragged the audience closer and closer to the stage as they straggled into the venue. “I’m heavy into real strange shit I won’t get into now,” lead singer Dulgarian murmured into the mic for “Marcel.” They proceeded to deliver a sonically mesmerizing set. If you’ve only had the chance to hear the indie world’s critically-acclaimed Topiary through headphones, you’ll be pleasantly impressed by the crunching and creeping live performance. You can catch them at their homecoming show at the end of the month (March 29.)
As heralded as the group is here at home, their performance had the out of towners enthralled. “Damn, are they local?” “What are they called?” They asked these questions to each other and didn’t seem to be expecting an answer from surrounding strangers, but then again, they didn’t know where they were.
Slothrust, Ian Sweet and Jouska at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen, Albany. Thursday, March 2.