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I’m waiting inside 51 West for the show to start, standing with my people. I don’t know any of them by sight or name, but they are my people nevertheless. They are the tribe of wallflowers, leaning on their ancestral home: The wall across from the stage. Their pale faces are illuminated in blue or yellow light cast by the screens on their phones. With the exception of yours truly, they are all wearing baseball caps and spectacles. They are also unshaven and lack dates; I guess I’m not so different from them after all.
I cast my eyes up at the ceiling of 51 West. It’s like staring into the exposed rib cage of an autopsied building. Above our heads is a lattice of thin iron beams, and behind these cold ribs are silvery insulation pipes coiled like intestines. Wires wrap around pipes and wood beams like veins tangled on bones. In the small front lobby area, a single lightbulb hangs over the ticket table. It reminds me of the bulb swinging over Norman’s mother in the Bates basement. All I can think about inside this sparse venue is anatomy and bones, bodies and death. I’m not morbid by nature: I’m just getting into the spirit of things to see The Body & Full of Hell play their gnarled, apocalyptic collaboration “One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache”.
The first band to play is Gale. They’re a thunderously loud metal four piece. One of the guitarists and the drummer trade off on vocals. From where I’m standing in the crowd, whenever the guitarist singer stands in front of the drums the drummer vanishes entirely from view. On the songs where the drummer sings, the vocals sound disembodied and pre-recorded as the band thrashed with brutal intent. As I watched this unintentional vanishing act play out, I wondered if any metal bands had ever tried doing a crossover with that most unholy of performing arts: ventriloquism. Imagine a wooden dummy with corpse-paint and spiked wristbands shrieking bloody murder about Nordic death gods while the “real” singer nonchalantly drinks a tall glass of bourbon behind him.
Gale play a solid set. It’s hard to distinguish individual songs within the cramped, rumbling ball of sound they make onstage. It does what heavy music does best: It creates vibrations so powerful I can feel my clothes shake and pressure build in my guts. The band is all rock and no talk: They attack their instruments with cold purpose. They look as intent as a crew of men would look while building a suspension bridge in mid-air or trying to wire up the Hadron Collider.