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Lightning Bolt/Wolf Eyes
Electric Ballroom, London
Yahoo Music (December 2004)

A full twenty four hours after the fact, Yahoo Music is still feeling dizzy with nausea. A mere four hours afterwards, our ears are screaming a four minute warning and we’re wondering if we’re ever going to get to sleep. Smack bang in the middle of it all, we have our fingers in our ears, grinning and dancing. Ten minutes before that, we feel our ears pop, as you would when caught in the rush of takeoff. Without thinking, Yahoo Music pinches its nose to neutralise the pressure – only for a sudden gale of white noise to engulf us.

We knew going to see Lightning Bolt would be extreme. That’s the point. We’d heard the tales: the chaotic set at ATP after Sonic Youth, the show under a Turkish restaurant in Hackney the night before where hundreds of bedlam-seekers were turned away. But we didn’t expect this. Three guys calling themselves Wolf Eyes are conjuring up sheer hell, without care for melody, decency or future deafness. One song sounds like thousands of gerbils being electrocuted while spanners rain furiously from the sky. Another like a gas leak at full volume. My ears are hurting. My eyebrows are hurting. Even typing these words now makes me feel slightly sick.

So when Lightning Bolt finally appear they feel, ironically enough, like blessed relief. Oh, insane rumblecore, how sweet the sound. A band we can’t actually see – thank you God! The schtick, for those who haven’t heard the whispers, is that the duo of Brian Gibson (earthquake bass, reportedly fed through a 3800 watt amp) and Brian Chippendale (frenetic, primal drums and vocals howled through a mic strapped onto his face with ski mask) play on the floor. All you can usually see is the thrashing mass of bodies as the crowd rapidly becomes one rabid moshpit, but tonight a huge screen feeds black and white images of the band taken from above. So we’re given two new perspectives straight away – looking up meekly at the rockstars onstage quickly feels very dated indeed.

Inevitably, the pleasure comes from details and sensations rather than the simple kick of songcraft. Brian C berates a guy at a previous show who swiped his mic/mask set up; the crowd cheer the spontaneity, whoop for what could happen next. Brian G manages to squeeze a high pitched guitar solo out of his bass, baffling scientists and music journalists alike. Brian C’s drumsticks are gnarled twigs rather than regular polished battering devices; there they are on the screen, hammering away, thumping out on the tinpot tinpot tinpot rhythm as the girls sitting on the stage, looking down on the band, wig out in time. The crowd surges suddenly, back and forth, the power of the mass sweeping individuals along with it; a girl crowd surfs for a moment, as if this all isn’t enough.

It’s good, basic excitement. The songs, fairly straightforward hardcore affairs, with muted screaming coming from under that ski mask, would only fall apart if forced to carry more than one and a half ideas. And the entire conceit of the show – that this is somehow an impromptu, unstoppable, dare we say genuine, guerrilla gig, of the people, driven forward by everyone crushed around it, willing it to happen – would fall apart too. If it hadn’t been preceded by the inside of our craniums being blowtorched to submission by the most evil men in live entertainment, then it might have been the year’s gig-going highlight. As it is, thank you, dear, sweet, fluffy, cuddly Lightning Bolt, for making the terror stop.

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Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London


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