By Charlie Carroll
ArtsPost staff writer
If you were looking for a dance party that runs the gamut of dramatic physical expression, then The Black Cat was the place to be April 22. Ranging from the synthpop style of Future Islands to the raucous punk mashing of Double Dagger, the Black Cat came alive for one of the week’s biggest and liveliest shows.
The first artist to hit the stage was Ed Schrader, an odd percussionist whose erratic screaming vocals and drawn out bass moaning stood out from the rest of the performers. Using nothing more than a kick drum, a microphone and a lamp, Schrader rumbled his way through a number of songs. He created a mysterious persona. At first glance he appeared to look pretty anti-rock and nerdy with a striped button-down tucked into a pair of khaki pants. But once the room went dark (save for a single light shining up on his face from the drum) Schrader pounded away on the drum, screaming and chanting. While Schrader’s act is very unique, the music itself just felt loud, ill-fitting and at times uncomfortable. At the very least, Schrader’s sound contains that rare quality where you either love it for its bold rejection of mainstream musical norms or you hate it for sounding like a crazy man with a pair of drumsticks in his hands. Despite his strange act the crowd still seemed to enjoy the enigmatic figure that is Ed Schrader.
The crowd stirred up as Future Islands took the stage, turning the backstage into a fun dance party. Future Islands takes the emotional vulnerability and synthpop sound of the classic new wave genre and injects it with a heavy dose of raw vocal power. While the bassist and keyboardist stand still for their performance, the band’s whole show is centered on singer Sam Herring. Herring pours his heart, body and soul into each song, weaving tales of heartbreak and introspection through the air like a Shakespearian actor. At one moment, with lips quivering and arms extended, he asked the audience to open their hearts. The next minute he then fell to his knees, beating his chest to force out his gravelly voice.
Once Double Dagger took the stage, the audience was ready to turn the Black Cat on its head. The drum-and-bass punk trio from Baltimore exploded onstage in a whirlwind of cacophony, energy and destructively beautiful musical power. As drummer Denny Bowen tore into his drumset I felt as if my ears were going to bleed from the sheer loudness of the snare and cymbals. Bassist Bruce Willen threw his instrument around like a madman while singer Nolen Strals contorted his body and wandered in and out of the audience. Don’t let the glasses fool you, these guys come to a show prepared to tear your face off.
Double Dagger has produced two full albums and several EP’s since the breakup of Strals’ and Willen’s former band League of Death in 2002. The name Double Dagger doesn’t always get tossed around as much as it deserves, but once discovered will change your life. Their live performance is nothing less than amazing and forces you to pay attention. The group has received praise from a number of music critics and even toured with such high-profile acts as The Buzzcocks.
Only a minute into the first song the crowd was converted into one expansive and seething mosh pit, with fans running around and furiously punching the air. The strength of the pit was especially surprising considering the small size of the room itself. Strals strolled in and out of the crowd to join in the moshing community. Whether he was grinding on some unsuspecting woman or wandering aimlessly with a blank stare painted on his face, Strals’ interaction with the crowd will remind you of the beauty of small shows. Too often fans are forced to stand at a distance from a band in stadiums, concert halls and other venues. The beauty of Double Dagger’s performance lies in the fan’s visceral connection with the band as both sides of the music experience collided in a celebration of life and community.