Churchill's Pub, Miami
Sunday, June 15, 2014
By this point, we've heard the lamentations, death knells, and obituaries for ye olde Churchill's Pub, the alternative hub in the heart of Little Haiti, where a punk and experimental scene has flourished for decades on end.
The club was recently sold by its original owner, Dave Daniels. An era came to an end. But after last night's Deafheaven show at 5501 NE Second Avenue, we're not even sure if there is new management -- and that's a good thing.
On a Sunday evening, three acts converged on Churchill's that would make any longstanding member of the crusty establishment proud. There was the terse, electronic-tinged bombast of Wreck and Reference; the thick, hairy prog-metal of Pallbearer; and the soaring, oceanic squalls of Deafheaven.
It was a night that reaffirmed Churchill's as a venue where many different shades of heavy music can continue to coexist.
Starting off the night was Wreck and Reference, an enigmatic Los Angeles duo that could be described as "avant-core."
Substituting a strapped-on sampler for metal's usual armies of guitars, Ignat Frege and Felix Skinner craft a sound somewhere between post-industrial texture and axe-shredding free noise, belting out lopsided tones that are almost kind of pretty in between spasmodic drum breaks and churning, guttural vocals.
The result is a tensely wound beast that still finds room for stretches of tunefulness and introspection.
The decidedly meatier, beer-swilling "classic"-tinged metal of Pallbearer was next. The Little Rock, Arkansas band references a long history of doom and stoner-metal influences, from the histrionics of Sabbath to the endless down-tuned riffing of Sleep or Om, but creates a gnarled and heavy brand of sludge that is uniquely its own.
The guitars are forceful and explosive at all the right moments. But it's frontman Brett Campbell's angelic croon that sets this group's smoked-out wizards apart from the pack and certifies them as glorious classic-metal balladeers.
If one complaint could be lodged against Pallbearer, it's that most of the set seemed fixed at a constant, thudding tempo -- albeit a gait that probably sounds perfect after two or ten hits of the bong.
See also: Churchill's Pub: An Oral History
Just a short time later, Deafheaven took the stage to an eruption of cheers, and the commanding presence of vocalist George Clarke clued the audience in on the intensity of the band's sound with little more than a wild-eyed glare and a cutting hand gesture.
The band moved effortlessly from pretty, ambient passages to shoegaze-y throb to thunderous, syncopated climaxes and back again -- all topped with Clarke's alien shrieks and barks, as every word seemed to shred his vocal cords before escaping his lips.
There is something resoundingly human about Clarke's dedication and delivery, however, that puts his particular brand of scorched emoting beyond that of his peers.
Meanwhile, Deafheaven has garnered a lot of attention recently for its upheaval of black metal's perceived norms. (The band has a fuschia album cover, and the guitars tend to flutter more than chug.) But the Miami gig showed a group that has come into its own as a torchbearer for the ongoing expansion of heavy music.
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The sound of Deafheaven is music that both the grimmest doom aficionados and experimental art-rock types could and should enjoy together, without pretense.
And after all, isn't that kind of intense, inclusive experience the mission of a bar like Churchill's?
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