Photograph by Julie Bonato
Ever wondered what it’d have been like to have attended a Cure concert circa 1982 (when Pornography was released), or to have seen Joy Division while Ian Curtis was merely contemplating suicide? Anyone too young for the former, could have made a pretty good inference of what it might have been like by attending The Soft Moon’s recent show, when they rolled their sonic hearse into Boston this past Wednesday night.
The term “industrial” could only really apply to the Soft Moon’s quintessential sound in how much it actually evokes the characteristic of a factory. The drums sound mechanical, like they’re being played by Rock’em Sock’em Robots (the drummer bears a similar blankness of expression). The various squalls being emitting by effects-heavy keys/guitars/offstage controllers sound in desperate need of WD-40. The tortured moans and echoed-out yelps of singer/ mastermind Luis Vasquez sound like a laborer being beaten mercilessly for failing to meet the projected quota.
The band first appears on stage while they’re setting up their own equipment; there is no curtain to stand behind. In fact, this venue feels too small for a band so well-publicized (according to Vasquez, they played sold-out shows in Europe). In spite of every omitted pomp and frill – minimalism very much at the heart of everything Soft Moon does (e.g. songs structures, album art, number of band-members, the fact that they are all dressed in black, etc.) – it becomes very clear when the show has started. And it all starts where it ends, with a pulse.
The first song is marked by an ominous, drone-like repetition, like some heavily-sedated submarine siren. The lighting is sketchy and Warholian, as a projection of various lines and jagged patterns coats the stage in visual abstraction. Sanity is breached by a primal “OOH!” left to dance in the air. The driving force is the rote drums as played by the aforementioned Rock’em Sock’em Robot in black. Emphasis is heavy on the snare, bass, and an additional electronic pad – despite the fact that there are some additional drumheads left in (perhaps they serve as decoration). Effortlessly tight as it all is, and as detached as each bandmember looks (i.e. the drummer, the bassist, and Vasquez in the center) – the drummer and bassists staring blankly outward – there is an atmosphere of dark cool in the room, more than the music, something akin to David Bowie’s character in The Hunger (i.e. a stylishly goth-tastic vampire flick from the 80s).
The Soft Moon’s music is the sound of unmitigated pain. And it is terribly satisfying to witness, as is the case with the rubberneckers/standers-by at the scene of any blood-and-glass-strewn car crash. It helps that this type of music treats spilt blood like gasoline. In fact, offstage Vasquez admits to having been under the weather the last few days, but it doesn’t show–then again the dark lighting and curdled walls of noise make for good cover. After the first song, Vasquez informs the crowd that something broke and that “the song didn’t sound like it should have.” But as far as anyone could tell, “brokenness” is this band’s stock-in-trade.
After the second song of squalling guitars, Simon Gallop-y basslines, and ghastly, reverb-soaked vocal chants, Vasquez tells the crowd as an afterthought, “We’re the Soft Moon by the way.” This is amongst the very few times he addresses the crowd, which suggests something about Vasquez’s more introverted tendencies, the very kind that prompted him to write these songs in his bedroom. It also suggests that he fares better letting his music speak for itself.
The third song is typified by a military rattle of a beat, halfway between that of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” and Joy Division’s “Disorder,” while the fifth song it strips down to full frontal nudity, as it draws comparisons to Devo; of course, the melody, and Vasquez’s Ian McCullough-like moaning of the word “fall” in chant-like successions, is far too downbeat for traffic cone-hats or any jubilant whip-cracking.
There is an element of vagueness from one song to the next, as the whole set is sort of this amorphous, trance-like experience. The key players are walls of noise (provided by bent keys and guitars that swipe, squeal, and never play chords), and infectious rhythms you can’t help but fidget to (perhaps even dance). There are times when it all appears very tribal, as if you accidentally stumbled into a cannibalistic village whereupon a man-sized pot of water has just reached its boiling point, Vasquez all the while leading the ceremony with bestial outbursts and all sorts of shadowy proclamations.
The last song is ‘Want’. Here Luis puts down the guitar – more like gives it a break from licking its open wounds all night – and takes to the microphone instrument-free, with the exception of a some bongos for some basic percussive accompaniment, that is it. This song actually feels like an aside from the rest: the unmistakable bass-snarl is a sample, as are the various other looped bits of texture that make it such an effective track from their latest album Zeroes (it could be their loathed obligatory track – every band in the realm of commercial success has one) but the band proves – and never proves better than while on stage – that it’s never the frills that make their music come alive it’s the pain and suffering that goes into it, as well as the glorious returns that come out the other end.