Alcest, Deafheaven, Vaura – 3/31/12

This was a show I had been looking forward to for a long time. Although I’m not the most devoted acolyte of Alcest’s work, I certainly do much more than enjoy Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde or Ecailles de Lune whenever I put them on, and the new album is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Alcest’s unique mix of shoegaze and latter-day black metal has greatly influenced my current musical tastes, so to finally see them in a live setting was an occasion I found it very hard to wait for. I had heard legends of how transformative Alcest’s live performances are from several of my friends who had seen them before, even from one who’s not into heavy metal in the least – if that’s not an endorsement, then I don’t know what is! And placing Deafheaven on the bill seemed like a natural fit, as both bands traffic in the cathartic meld of shoegaze and black metal that has become so popular as of late. Everything I had heard of Deafheaven’s live performances was nothing short of glowing, so to say that I was amped to see them open for Alcest would be a severe understatement. I was brimming over with anticipation. And to further add to the excitement, the venue was handing out free rum starting at 8 PM – I was there faster than you could say “debilitating levels of inebriation.”

Vaura, the opening band, was an act with which I was woefully unfamiliar. They quickly piqued my interest and won me over with their unique mix of progressive rock, psychedelia, shoegaze, and black metal – they called to mind a lighter version of fellow genre-straddling Brooklynites Tombs, one of my favorite contemporary acts. I later found out that Vaura shares members with such scene stalwarts as Gorguts, Dysrhythmia, Kayo Dot, and Maudlin of the Well. With such impressive credentials, it’s no wonder that the members of Vaura were able to put on such an excellent performance. Their unique style of music did a fantastic job of setting the mood for the rest of the night’s performances, and anyone who considers themselves a fan of the other two bands on the bill for this show owes it to themselves to give Vaura’s Selenelion a close listen.

Deafheaven in a live setting is a goddamn powerhouse. Their 2010 demo mixed post-rock, black metal, and melodic hardcore/screamo leanings in a unique mix that left my ears itching for more, and the debut full-length Roads to Judah has been in near-constant rotation since I picked it up on vinyl a few months back, but nothing could have prepared me for the intensely cathartic experience of their live performance. They’re a very young band, only forming a couple years back in 2010, and their youthful energy is an absolute joy to watch. You can see that their singer puts his heart into every single word he belts out, and each of the accompanying musicians plays in an amazingly tight synergy that one would expect to see from veterans of countless tours and albums – to see such a young group of musicians performing flawlessly with an unbridled enthusiasm was a complete surprise and an absolute treat. The crowd reacted with unchecked excitement in turn, Deafheaven’s energy moving them emotionally in one of the best symbiotic relationships between band and audience that I’d seen in a long time. And when their singer gave his thanks to the audience at the close of their set, you could tell he meant it dearly.

During my interview with Neige earlier in the night, when I asked him to describe Alcest’s sound, he replied that it’s impossible to accurately communicate it through words. After seeing them perform I’m more than inclined to agree, but I’ll do my best to transmit my experience using our inferior human vocabulary – it’s my job, after all. If you’ve listened to their records at least once through, it’s easy to see where Neige draws his influences from. Alcest plays a unique blend of synth-aided dream pop/shoegaze in the late 80s/early 90s mold (think Slowdive or Cocteau Twins) with the occasional blast beat or black metal hawk shriek rising to the surface. It’s hard to call them metal, as anyone who would have tried to mosh to them at the show would have been met with a severe stank-eye from everyone who had been moshing to Deafheaven an hour earlier, but their effect on the crowd could not be denied. It was hard to find anyone in the room who was not at least bobbing their head to Alcest’s enrapturing performance. As much as I can try, it’s just not possible for me to accurately convey the emotional power of the moment when the fog-shrouded stage began to ring with the opening chords of “Autre Temps;” it’s really something that has to be experienced firsthand to be understood. I will say, however, that Neige is the only man who can get away with wearing a peacock feather amulet around his neck; nobody else on the planet neither can nor should attempt that.

This show easily enters my God Tier of shows, no contest. All three bands performed wildly beyond my expectations to create one of my favorite live music experiences in recent memory. The only shortcomings were that the sound could have been a bit better, especially during Vaura’s set, and the loathsome hipster population both reached and exceeded critical levels* – but that’s only to be expected from a show in Williamsburg, the trendiest of Brooklyn neighborhoods. But overall, these negatives paled and withered away beneath the commanding performances of the three acts. If any one of these bands comes to your locale, do not miss out. I can’t stress that enough.

*ATTN – smelly hipster in a denim vest with the disgusting grimy unwashed mullet standing directly in front of me who spent the whole time on his iPhone: The only reason you continue to commit the unforgivable crime of breathing my air is because it’s somehow illegal for me to kill you.