FEATURE: The Hotelier / The Reptilian / Two Knights, Live in Worcester – 8.17
by Chad Jewett
The Shop is a converted art space, tucked amongst aging warehouses and industrial buildings that fill the gap between the campus of Clark University and I-290. To one side of The Shop, which is set in the converted ground floor of a slim factory building, is a parking lot half-full with used cars sans license plates. Next to the venue is a sort of blacksmith shop from which various strains of metal-core emanate sharply over the course of the night. Leaving The Shop for air means walking into that faintly bizarre space formed by the surrounding brick buildings, the ever-present incongruity of an audience almost entirely under thirty years old amongst warehouses and industrial sheds that last saw their prime fifty or more years ago.
Like Pawtuckett’s Met, The Shop is an emblem of Northeastern post-industrial punk resourcefulness, the product of young artists figuring out new uses for spaces gone to seed. But while The Met more or less resembles an eccentric version of the Boston rock clubs to the north, The Shop is more ad-hoc and improvised. The PA system likely comes and goes. The front half of the room, painted in a thick, pumpkin orange, is more or less a kitchen – seemingly a well-used one – stocked with various cooking oils, hot sauces, and more whimsically, a large wood-handled bell and other pawnshop items. A breakfast bar serves as a merch table for The Hotelier, who hail from Worcester. The Hotelier, along with Two Knights, The Reptilian, and Daydreamer play in the back half of the room, a long rectangle of exposed brick dotted with dream-like paintings of cartoon women, green paper spots, metal carvings of shaped tin (likely wrought next door in the hardcore-soundtracked metal shop) and, over the stage, a multi-layered woodcut of impressionist butterflies. Above the audience, a collection of thin metal piping is shaped into a star that variably resembles a deconstructed Rubik’s Cube or a B2 bomber.
Daydreamer began the evening with a short set of long songs, five and six minute dirges steeped in the sparkling drama of Mineral and Christie Front Drive. At their best, the band manages to remind one of the wide swaths of mid-90s Great Plains emo that has remained peripheral in the sound’s contemporary renaissance. In a modern wave more characterized by the fizzy, quicksilver changes of Cap’n Jazz or Braid, there was a pleasant languor to Daydreamer’s slow-core measuredness, something fitting about their set in the context of late summer.
Two Knights – whose excellent Shut Up remains one of the two or three best albums of the year – were remarkable. The fiery confessionalism of the album became positively volcanic in live translation, Parker Lawson’s painful, scraping shouts turned into deeper, bracing screams, the percussive nature of his jazz-punk guitar given further compelling radiance. The bounding energy of Shut Up, an album that so frequently leans into changing time signatures, curling crescendos, and “big moments,” was manifest. Watching the duo attack, bend, and reshape these songs, one realizes the sheer physicality of the music Two Knights make: Miles DeBruin hits his drums with crackling force; Lawson sets his mic stand low, forcing him to bend at the waist for each verse, a further example of the singer-songwriter’s seeming knack for self-punishment, a theme coursing through Shut Up. “Dear God, This Parachute is a Knapsack” – the band’s version of a single – was dense and sinewy in the slight brick hall, DeBruin’s floor-tom punctuation landing with palpable density, making the air wobble. The duo played a new song, and, somewhat bafflingly considering the magnum opus nature of Shut Up, it could prove to be their best, pairing their strengths for bouncing music-theory pop and shimmering pensiveness by suturing the former to the latter, the whole song playing out like an abstracted mood swing.
The evening had a similar clarifying effect for The Reptilian. Long salient as the most wooly of Count Your Lucky Stars’ roster of emo rebuilders, The Reptilian’s discography exists in a left field to most of their contemporaries, more willing to spend time in the murky punk sidewinding of Drive Like Jehu or The Minutemen alongside the sparkling neatness of Polyvinyl’s math-inflected catalog. But seeing the band live brought clarity to the hidden precision of the trio’s sound, the ways in which bright, pinpointed guitars are etched over thick, rubbery bass. Even at the band’s most densely churning one can track that stereo effect of prettiness and congealed noise, the sonic equivalent of bright thread stitched across darkened fabric. Indeed the central joy of The Reptilian comes in realizing how athletically the band shapes and reshapes their weighty noise rock, how often pop melodies manage to surface amongst the trio’s SST-inflected workouts.
The Hotelier, for whom this show was something of a prodigal return after a half-year of critical celebration and well-regarded tours, finished the evening. Opening with a song from an earlier record –an acknowledgment of the band’s hometown fanbase – the set pivoted between those older tracks and songs from the terrific Home, Like NoPlace Is There. As has been the case for the several shows we’ve seen The Hotelier play, their set was confident and nimble, the result of six months and more spent with these songs night after night. At one point, Christian Holden (the band’s singer), responded to an attempt at crowd-surfing with the simple request that the audience find a way to dance without making the space unsafe for smaller bodies. The statement was matter of fact (and welcome) and not unlike the progressive, egalitarian directness that defines Home and songs like “Housebroken,” which, along with the wonderful “Among The Wildflowers” (an early song-of-the-year candidate) were highlights of an efficient, fine-tuned set. The past year have seen The Hotelier in a constant state of arrival – as one of the most compelling bands of a modern punk groundswell, as a critically lauded group of songwriters, and now as well-loved natives of an underdog city. The set ended with “The Scope Of All Of This Rebuilding” (a song whose concerns are interpersonal yet archetypal), a fitting last thought for a town like Worcester and a space like The Shop and a night like tonight.