The Voidz With POW! At The Masonic Lodge At Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Thursday March 29th 2018
Julian Casablancas has ideas, many ideas, and his work with the Voidz is a busy ant farm in non-stop action, blending pop, metal, jazz, punk, hip hop ideas even adding classic and world music into this burning melting pot. The Voidz’s music could be the equivalent of globalism, a word as politically charged as the band’s songs. My first encounter with the Voidz was with the release of the track from their 2014 album ‘Tyranny’, ‘Human Sadness’, an epic and thunderous pop symphony sampling Mozart’s Requiem, which unleashed more emotion in 11 minutes than the entire discography of many bands, and probably ripped apart every preconceived idea we had about the Strokes’ frontman.
May be Julian Casablancas has too many ideas and can’t decide which one to use for a song, he is not interested by the classic western music palette of sounds but by a more blurry one, he is interested by in-between notes as he said in an interview, and may be this savant chaos is what some call genius. I completely enjoyed the album when it was released, and I know that it’s still possible to listen to ‘Tyranny’ as if it was a new album. The tracks are so dense, so multi-facetted that it’s not possible to digest them at once, and I am still hearing new things after many listenings… and according to what I just experienced, their new one, ‘Virtue’, just released a few days ago, is no different.
This week, the Voidz had a mini residency at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and I caught them on Thursday night. It’s interesting to see they chose this intimate venue, and preferred to book three nights there instead of booking one night at a larger venue. I couldn’t have been more pleased by the choice as I never got remotely close to the large stage when they played the FYF in 2014. I love intimate venues and playing three nights also gave them the occasion to pick three different bands for openers, actually three very familiar (and favorite) ones, as Ho99o9, POW! and Starcrawler respectively opened on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Does Julian Casablancas secretly go to the same shows than I?
I have seen POW! a few times, but they are never boring, they are always surprising and true original. This time, guitarist/singer Byron Blum came on stage with a blonde wig he dramatically removed during his set of chainsaw guitar assaults, UFO submarine keyboard and laser beam experimentation. Each time, he is ranting at us as if he was reinventing the street mad preacher character, aggressively screaming spoken words during repeated outbursts of energy against cyber-attack, futuristic noises and steady drumbeat. Meanwhile Melissa Blue on keyboard adds to the weirdness of the scene, looking impassive while there is a sonic riot at the other side of the stage. They got a warm reception by the crowd and Byron told us he was very honored to be opening since the second show he ever went to, was a gig by the Strokes! Described as ‘the soundtrack to your dystopian near future’ by Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer (who signed them on his label Castle Face Records), they had little time to convince everyone they could warm up the place for the Voidz, and they succeeded with an intense ratty punky set of beamy new noises and upbeat tempos, percolating behind propulsive punk guitar and fronting synths.
The Voidz arrived on stage by walking through the small room along the wall, and they were welcome like true rock stars. The set was relatively short, 11 songs of ‘Virtue’ and ‘Tyranny’, but it was a very intense hour, centered around Casablancas’ reluctant charismatic presence, often bent in half or even turning his back to the crowd.
‘Pyramid of Bones’ started with metal aggression and distortion as if it was something from Ho99o9, almost immediately incorporating other elements, like an electrifying rock dancefloor disturbed by darkness and horror. The crowd was deeply enthusiastic, and broke a few times into a mosh pit in the front rows where I was standing, but I was not ready to back up. ‘QYURRYUS’ (curious), described by the band as a ‘Cyber-Arabic-Prison-Jazz’, was one of the most interesting songs live. Even though I had never heard it, it immediately captured all my attention with its Arabic bazaar/middle Eastern vibe, and the way it was breaking into deep drama with Casablancas half singing, ‘I Lost What’s Mine’. It worked in an adventurous similar way than ‘Father Electricity’ or ‘Dare I care’ from their album ‘Tyranny’ (two songs that they also played), mixing plenty of world ideas inside a messy, complex soundscape in a very rewarding way, unlike a Massive Attack’s song.
As I was restlessly trying to get a few good pics of Casablancas and his band mates who were bathing in a foggy blue and red light, the music was wrapping my ears with a loud thunder of an Amazon forest of sounds, led by Casablancas’ signature nasal croon. I guess his voice was the only thing consistently surfacing the chaos, although often muddled inside a thick haze of distortion, aggressive riffs or exotic guitar lines, engulfing a series of emotions at once, managing to sound catchy and surprising at the same time, like during ‘M.utually A.ssured D.estruction’.
After the menacing and darkeness of ‘Coul as a Goul’, a still unreleased song, the density of ideas of the new album was also reflected by ‘ALieNNatioN’ a much slower and calmer song cooling down the room with a funky bass and a catchy pop phrase, ‘How could it be murder in the name of officer security’, over a strange atmosphere that could have borrowed from the hip hop world. This was followed by the joyous ‘Wink’, which despite its happy South African guitar loops and Caribbean vibe, managed to bring the Strokes’ angsty malaise,… If another crazy social justice warrior accuses the Voidz of culture appropriation, I wonder what culture it would be.
I didn’t regret a moment to have chosen the pit instead of the balcony, after all I am not that old yet, and I say this despite the rowdy crowd moves and the forest of cell phones always up in the air to capture each moment of the craziness,… the success of a show is also 50% due to crowd participation. The encore brought us the intriguing ‘Xerox’ and its puzzling apocalyptic ambiance then the almighty bass line of ‘Where No Eagles Fly’, with a full crowd bath for Julian Casablancas, as the first row got the chance to rub his hair and head.
Four years after its release, I still haven’t fully digested ‘Tyranny’ and now we have this second one, the equally challenging ‘Virtue’, with its intricate maze of sounds, aggression and confusion, tempest of emotions, series of sound-challenging ideas, abrupt sonic changes, but also its pop hooks and massive rubber-like bass lines. In a time where a lot of bands chose easy pathways toward mainstream redundancy, Julian Casablancas and the Voidz have plenty of ideas and their music opens a large and adventurous screen on the current state of the world, with a renewed love for chaos and in-between sounds.
Pyramid of bones
M.utually A.ssured D.estruction
Leave It In My Dreams
Coul as a Goul
Dare I Care
Where No Eagles Fly