Since their start in 2009, The Orwells have built a reputation wreaking glorious havoc on the world and ravaging cities in their wake. Last night at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen, Albany was no exception.
They took the stage with stoic faces, bent over their instruments as lead singer Mario Cuomo deadpanned the room. He clawed his fingers slowly and deliberately through his mass of thick dyed-black curls. Staring straight ahead with a menacing stare, he jerked his head suddenly, as if shaking water from his ear and burst into “Black Francis.”
Unlike many bands, with their introductions, speeches, jokes and anecdotes, The Orwells had very little to say. As the show progressed, the frontman would stand over his audience, opening his mouth to nearly swallow the mic with a sharp intake of breath. His face fell again as he resolved to say nothing at all and you could almost hear tension all around you. The Orwells were marionettes, only allowing the crowd to think they acted independently. Their presence was almost too much to handle and they seemed to pay no attention at all–eyes to their instruments or the ceiling, at times looking utterly bored. Bassist Brant Brinner spent the majority of the set facing the amps, and between songs Cuomo wandered to The Hollow’s windows to peer at the street behind the curtains. Yet, they kept the room enraptured.
Suddenly Cuomo burst. “You guys are so fucking stiff!” he screamed into the mic. It seemed impossible with the kind of power emanating from the stage. He gestured to the corner of the room where a mosh circle had started, “You! You guys get up here now.” He pointed to the front of the stage–smirking slightly at the young fans who had eagerly lined its edge–and threw his arm in the air. They had lost their spots without a fight and the whole room exploded into a giant pit, imploding on itself and expelling some into the air. They climbed frantically onto the stage to dive back in.
In was one frantic performance after another, the band sent the room into a rapture. The famed anthem “Who Needs You” from their Disgraceland album had Cuomo bobbing in and out of the desperately grasping crowd. They were starving zombies looking for flesh as Dominic Corso and Matt O’Keefe pummelled their guitars a few feet from the frenzy. Drummer Grant Brinner was relentless, reaching his drumsticks up high before hammering them down in rapid succession. After the frontman slowly descended the stairs to scream into their faces, they sent him tumbling back and he crawled across the stage like a stalking cat–still singing every word.
In songs like “The Righteous One,” “In My Bed” and “Heavy Head” Cuomo was manic, crouching low and twisting his matted hair into the faces of the crowd. At this point in his career, the singer has perfected his twisted, cheshire grin. “My daddy’s got a 12-gauge / I hope I don’t find it,” he sang in “Gotta Get Down” as his pale features contorted into crazed expression before characteristically rolling his eyes in the back of his head. He stumbled and rushed from one side of the stage to the other as the mass sloshed from left to right. They reached at him as he spun around, ass bent to the crowd as the slapped whatever they could get a hold of. He smiled triumphantly, reveling in the chaos.
He moved like a snake in songs like “Creatures,” wrapping the long white cord of his microphone slowly around his neck and letting it hang behind his back as he stared blankly at the ceiling, arching back up to stare right out of their field of vision of his entranced followers. Some shook their hair and hands wildly–searching for his eyes–but he was good. He was stone faced. Cuomo could not be broken.
“This one’s gonna groove,” he said of “Hippie Soldier” off of their new album Terrible Human Beings. They obliged for a moment but the hook sent everyone into the air once again, knees to their chests in in a cathartic release of energy.
By the closing song–and finale of their new release–“Double Feature,” everyone in the room was drenched in sweat, knotted together and screaming. The 7-minute song stretched on but it felt like a moment. Brant was molding and contorting the backbone of the song on his bass as O’Keefe crouched to the ground, laboring over the echoing of his instrument. Grant slammed into his kit and Cuomo rushed off the stage, not to be seen again. As the instruments swelled, Corso let it all go, strumming heavily and shouting the chorus into the mic with such power that it was a wonder that his jaw didn’t unhinge. They played it out until there was nothing left to say.
The opening duo Whitehorse, who came all the way from Toronto to play a short set and warm up the room, had only lulled The Hollow into a false sense of security during their folk set, but The Walters followed and picked up the pace. Playing from their latest release Young Men and their 2014 debut Songs For Dads, songs like “I Haven’t Been True,” “New Girl (Tom’s Song)” and “City Blues” outlined the band’s ability to absolutely thrash while performing songs that sounded straight out of a 50’s high school dance.
The Orwells had taken the Chicago hunks on their very first tour, lead singer Luke Olsen told Albany, and the five-piece matched the headliner’s energy with all its might. Olsen didn’t stop moving for the entire set, already dripping halfway through. He had spent the show performing a routine of perfectly awkward dance moves, balancing on one foot with his face to the floor. He stroked the faces and hair of happy-go-lucky bassist Danny Wells (who he teased incessantly) and Michael Tirabassi as he crooned. Where The Orwells had no need for adoration, The Walters reveled in it.
When The Orwells unceremoniously exited the stage, they left their latest victims to shout out their last bits of energy and disperse, spinning and deaf. It’s exactly what we needed.
The Orwells, The Walters, Whitehorse: May 24, 8PM at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen, Albany