Vertigod: Victory in Silence

Kneel down

Vertigod ain’t exactly benevolent

At Vertigod shows, girls punch each other in the face. At least that was the reported highlight after the band’s March 4 [2006, when this originally ran] show at the Alehouse, which also featured about 170 other kind souls beating each other senseless in a pit the club staff didn’t have a prayer of keeping tame even if they wanted to.

Conventional wisdom might tell you that shows like these are similar to that old hockey joke: People show up for a fight and a concert breaks out. But that would be ignorant of the dynamics at work. At a bad hardcore/punk show, you’ll see two guys swirling fists at themselves, making a case for a check-in at the local looney bin, while the rest of the crowd stands around drinking beer. With a good band, like Vertigod, the crowd is simply compelled to participate. The music inspires a certain energy that’s impossible to resist.

It’s not that different from other genres. With indie rock, you compulsively nod your head. With jam, you kind of shake your ass and wiggle your arms around at your sides. With hardcore, you launch yourself into other people and generally flail yourself about with little regard for the safety of others. Fans joyously evaluate a recent show by the amount of bloody faces and missing teeth, yet are generally some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. They just like to wear black and listen to music with lyrics like: “Eraser/ Killing yourself/ Pull the fucking trigger/ Watch the blood hit the wall.”

That’s from Vertigod’s “1000 Pardons,” off their debut full-length, Victory in Silence. Frontman Shawn Adams dips his normally tenor scream low: “No more innocence/ No more subtlety.” No, there’s not a lot of subtlety here. Vertigod are loud, aggressive, and menacing with a genuine air of desperation and disgust. For a screamer/growler, Adams does a good job of enunciating so you can actually make out a lot of the vocals. They’re not what you’d call witty. More like just mean.

“Fuck the system/ Burn it down.”

Though Vertigod play songs that date back to their formation in 2003, all of the lyrics have been rewritten since Adams came on board in early 2005. In fact, the final three songs on their new eight-song disc were included on their three-song 2004 maxi-single, MCCCXXXVI. “Moment of Clarity” kept its title. “The Path” has become “System Addict,” the tune from which the above lyric was taken, and “Two Feet Deeper” is now “Subject of Change.”

Adams, who joined just after new bassist Josh McVane (drummer Mark Sayer’s old bandmate in Rare Form), brings interesting twists to the recording studio, too. On the record’s opening “Volatile” and throughout, Adams lends multiple vocal tracks; sometimes, if you can believe, harmonizing his growls and screams, other times singing his part and then pushing himself aside with a primordial bellow.

“We basically gave him free reign once we got in [the studio],” Sayer says, noting that they’re working on replicating the backup vocals live. He says they recorded much of the disc virtually live with Steve Drown, at the Studio, which can be more than a little difficult with the kind of mathematical, highly technical music Vertigod play, complete with frequent all-stops and time-signature changes.

Plus, they can’t exactly fall into a verse-chorus-verse rhythm. Vertigod seem to write in phrases, revisiting pieces of songs at later points but never establishing what you’d call a pattern. “There’s structure, but it’s almost anti-structure,” says Sayer, “if that makes any sense. It keeps our sound fresh, not coming into the same thing all the time.”

Because of the genre’s intensity, some bands will throw 25 or more minute-plus songs onto one album. Vertigod have gone the other way, averaging more than four minutes, though each song seems to contain as many as four other songs. Pauses, back-steps, fast-without-sounding-fast passages, slow-without-sounding-slow passages, and glimpses of everything from AC/DC to the Phantom of the Opera populate tunes that are impossible to predict.

Long-time dual guitarists Andy Fournier and Jeff Staggs provide all the flare, comfortable in such a tight rhythm section that they can shift easily from being in lock-step with staccato crunches to breaking off a mid-song descending guitar lick, as in “System,” that drops two full octaves, note by note, in the span of two seconds, like sunshine peeking through the clouds.

On the album’s most interesting turn, “Towing the Line Between Insanity and Genius,” the guitars sour after Adams’ promise, “I can set you free.” The song becomes a gothic carnival, an organ played by guest Erik Winter coming in to cement the feeling. Then it speeds up for a finish that seems well separated from the goth, more aggressive, “You lied you fucker/ You said the pain would go away.”

Vertigod demand an honest listen and never hide their intentions. Is it sometimes painful? You bet.

Theodore Treehouse: Mercury: Closest to the Sun

Burn, baby, burn

Theodore Treehouse are Closest to the Sun

So, it looks like Bryan Bruchman and Dylan Martin and Ian Paige and everyone else who’ve been raving about Theodore Treehouse’s live set over the past year [this was December of 2010] were completely and totally right. The buzz is that it’s nearly impossible to stay still during a Treehouse performance, that people seem near possessed in their pogoing while they play. After just a single listen to their debut full-length, Mercury: Closest to the Sun, it’s pretty easy to see why.

The next 10 or so listens (really, I can’t stop listening) were demanded by the incredible energy and infectious passion these guys put into every song, headed by Ian Ferrel, who delivers with a mania like a British Invasion version of Caleb Followill (Kings of Leon – they’re not the mainstream rock band you think they are) singing Babyshambles songs.

Recording down at Rocking Horse Studio in Pittsfield, NH, Theodore have managed to capture that live energy on disc, Ferrel’s tossed off “that’s right”s and “ooh-ooh-ooh”s coming through like you’re standing right in front of them at Slainte or SPACE. You get the idea that he never quite sings these songs the same way twice and that this album could be 20 percent different and still be terrific.

The songwriting is great, though, with just enough variation off the typical verse-chorus-verse structure to keep you on edge, and a span of tempos that run from manic Fratellis to jammed-out Phantom Buffalo to rocked-out Animals. Of special note, too, is bassist Asher Platts, who is wonderfully economical with his notes, driving melody and pace without overplaying or getting in the way. He does something important on nearly every track.

“Big Monsters” is most undeniable here, with Ferrel opening with a clipped delivery — “show your teeth, come on and follow me” — and drummer Dylan (he’s got one name in the liner notes, but it’s Dylan Verner, we can say with confidence now) finishing each phrase with an elegant splash of cymbal. Then, like a snake coiled for release, it explodes into the second half, where “we fight big monsters every night” and the aggression is somehow conveyed through delicate plinking keyboards.

And what an upbeat ode is “My Apartment Is a Boat,” where “in my mind it’s summertime/ And you still live in the states.” Sam Chandler’s keyboard break is so vampy and upbeat I don’t know how you could possibly resist jumping around wherever you’re hearing it. Same with “Balloon Race,” where Ferrel’s “doot-doot-doot” makes him the pied piper, like he’s walking down the sidewalk and you see him pass and can’t possibly avoid turning around and following him with a bounce in your step.

Then they finish with the banjo-infused “Two Hearts” and it’s like, “what, they can do THAT?” Gone is the self-assured strut, replaced by emotional vulnerability: “Take a piece of my heart, girl/ Take it to the river and wash it.”

I’ll admit it. With a name like Theodore Treehouse, I thought these guys were a bunch of twee-poppers, but they’re nothing of the sort. This is the kind of fun there isn’t enough of in music today. Get on board and ride it.