Fans of Lightning Bolt flocked to T.T. the Bear’s Place last Saturday night, hoping they hadn’t forgotten their earplugs.
As more and more people trickled in to see the experimental hardcore duo, one could feel the anticipation swell. Where would Lightning Bolt, notorious for playing on a venue’s floor instead of its stage, set up? And just how loud is “loud” anyhow?
As one fan put it: “It’s just not worth it without earplugs.” No one wants to lose his or her hearing for just one hour of sonic bliss.
More than sheer volume, “loud” signified intensity, spectacle and chaos.
Brian Chippendale (drums) and Brian Gibson (bass) are nothing like the intimidating figures that their loud metal riffs and reputation for insane live shows suggest. Instead, they radiate a kind of childlike innocence and excitement in person. During the songs, Chippendale wore a green ski mask with a voice-altering microphone taped inside, making his speech unintelligible. He looked like a character from a fantasy comic strip, while Gibson grinned sweetly.
It’s a happy coincidence that the two members share a name. The liner notes on their latest album Wonderful Rainbow even credit the duo as “BRIANS GIBSONCHIPPENDALE.” They revel in the precision they can achieve as a small unit.
“I like how [having only two people in the band] keeps the idea of what we are doing really specific. When we have more people there are so many different things interacting and you can have so many weird subtle variations. Everything we do sounds very pointed in one direction,” Gibson said.
From the show’s start, a loud and fierce wall of noise hit the audience with a force and intensity that shoved and smashed onlookers into one another and even into the band. The space between drummer and bassist—probably no more than two feet—was constantly invaded.
“Once you’re in the thick of it, whether you’re playing well or not seems to go out the window. It doesn’t seem to matter as much [as when we are recording]. And I kind of like that, because I’m a wimp. It’s gotten to a point where [the shows are] a madhouse. Which is what we’ve always sort of been pushing for,” Chippendale said.
Unfortunately, the very nature of the band’s show makes it difficult for most to see more than an occasional head.
“At some of our New York shows there are 450 people there. I can tell that 40 people are having fun. And I wonder if there are 410 people that are totally bummed out because they can’t see anything,” Chippendale said.
“But I haven’t heard too many complaints yet,” he added. Playing on the same level as the audience allows something far more powerful and memorable than the icon worship typical in rock music, he says. The crowd’s interaction becomes an extension of the music; its movement becomes essential to the overall experience.
“Things happen where we get interrupted by people falling on top of us or something. It all adds to this era of this explosive event. It’s fun,” Chippendale said.
“The audience is just as significant a member of the band as either of us,” added Gibson, who at one point was briefly sucked into the crowd before emerging smiling and unfazed.
Of course, volume—and lots of it—is crucial to Lightning Bolt.