Sonic Smorgasbord for the Self-Absorbed

UNWOUND Middle East downstairs Saturday, March 14

Three songs into an excruciatingly dense set of precisely performed ear-wrenching rumbles, lead singer and guitarist Justin Trosper introduced his band with a nonchalance that foretold the group's indifference to the audience: "Oh yeah, we're Unwound." Only the most self-absorbed rockers embrace such inconsideration.

The audience clapped and hooted at the short-winded announcement despite Unwound's apparent unwillingness to crank out an hour of its revered gangly rock. All-too-willing fans were complacently standing by ready to accept whatever sonic sludge was dealt out to them, no matter how unfeeling or unresponsive. "That's right," Trosper smugly responded to the shouts under his breath. Members of Unwound were masters of manipulation for the evening as the audience played right into the scheme.

The crowd's susceptibility to be hoodwinked by Unwound's conspicuous distancing would have flabbergasted even the most naive bystander. The Olympia, Wash. based group was emotionally impenetrable, their inescapably unfamiliar and unattractive soundscape not making the group any more easy to understand. The conclusion: either the members colluded to dupe their loyal fans or they decided transcending the expectations of the crowd wasn't worth the effort. It didn't help that the similarly self-absorbed fans ate it right up.

Audience demographics are uncannily indicative of a band's personality in concert; there's no "opposites attract" rule observed at live music shows. Unwound's followers at first glance were very into themselves. On further inspection, their narcissism was sickeningly omnipresent. These devotees perspired a style-savvy indie rock posturing not unlike the weight-of-the-world-on-my-shoulders instrumentalists they deified. "I'm cooler than you" was the unspoken mantra of the evening for both band and fan alike.

Unwound's stage presence symbolized this psychological isolation from peers as the trend du jour. Mop-headed, slackjawed, distant and sedated, Trosper and bassist Vern Rumsey slumped over themselves as they aimlessly strummed away in their emotional vacuum. Remaining unresponsive to their fans, the pair rarely deviated from a tired routine.


Stage movements added little to Unwound's already dry personality. Rumsey would occasionally break from his steady position for a gulp of beer. Trosper would often wince or bob up and down while emoting over some random, nonsensical lyric. Even drummer Sara Lund's top-heavy noggin kept her head perpetually lopsided; combined with an empty, stunned gaze, Lund provided quite the unsettling image.

Now don't let this overwhelming visual imagery cloud the musical promise of the songs Unwound chose to play from their Kill Rock Stars arsenal. At first, the music suffered from its surface awkwardness and appeared to have no direction, no substance, no reason. But Unwound wouldn't let you leave the room without closing up the gaps in the musical context. A dissonant run-on melody may have dragged out interminably and lost your attention or the grinding repetitiveness of a discordant thrash tune could have sent your mind a flitter, but Unwound always successfully brought the listener back into their sonically disturbing realm.

Here's a word of advice for listening to Unwound: let the music wash over you.

No matter how distracted you felt or wanted to feel, by opening up your senses to the noise, Unwound's underlying musical messages were easier to uncover. The difficulty was wading through the distortion and seemingly incongruous combination of vocals, bass, guitar and drums. But the triumph, and possibly Unwound's greatest ability, was the band's adroitness in crafting a latent coherence to most songs. Unwound makes its listeners work to appreciate the music.

Penetrating the unorthodox confluence of sounds was daunting. Instruments sounded as if they were playing on different levels separate from accompanying players. Lund was sure to keep the beat but the rhythm often seemed to disagree with Trosper and Rumsey. Similarly, bass and guitar often battled for who could be more discernibly out of step with the other. Despite the randomness, Unwound never failed in molding distinct, assimilable songs from the musical mess.

On tour in support of Challenge For A Civilized Society, the band's newest release on Kill Rock Stars, Unwound played a handful of new numbers and chose selections from their past five albums. Fans were certainly pleased with the variety, although simply the presence of Unwound, even an ineffectual one, was enough to recharge their indie rock batteries until the next time around.

Aside from technical prowess, Unwound proferred little else for the eager crowd. More energy could have made the show spectacular. A visible interest in performing would have helped. Even a smile would have perked up the performance.

Humorously, Trosper offered the only shred of feeling, the only attempt at connecting with the audience as an afterthought: "Thanks for coming out, we always enjoy playing the Middle East." This parting remark could be construed as an extension of their successful scheming to keep fans reeled in, but Unwound wasn't that egocentric. At least for closure the band shed their impersonality.

Next time, maybe Unwound will leave the feigned introspection and rote regurgitation at the door and actually strike up a dynamic relationship with the audience.

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