Concert Review: Biohazard, The Unsane, The Clay People (Saratoga Winners, Cohoes, New York, December 12, 1996)

I spent most of the afternoon preceding this concert oozing phlegm, coughing up lung-chunks and wallowing stuporifically on the sofa watching rented movies. My sick-day selections included ’70s techno-thriller The Andromeda Strain (in which virulence visits from outer space) and the indescribably hideous Japanese Eraserhead-clone, Tetsuo: The Iron Man (in which two tortured individuals graphically become one with the help of appliances and solder and bolts.)

Clay People’s opening set at Winners struck my cough-syrup tanked brain as a very logical third leg in that day’s thematic trilogy of rampant physical morbidity and metal run amuck. The latest pulverizing six-piece incarnation of this long-running local outfit spewed goblin-in-the-machine technomania, anxiety-attack-inducing grindcore, and Swans-like sludge-metal, with everything boosted as if from a dirty adrenaline needle to the band’s collective heart. I literally had to step away from the wall against which I was leaning midway through the set because the vibrations from the band’s electronics were causing my innards to wiggle with strange out-of-sequence palpitations and peristalses. I kept waiting for some Tetsuo-styled metal appliance to burst out of my guts, but there was to be no such easy relief from this band’s claustrophic musical hammering. In summary, I liked the set in the same way that some people like getting tatooed: the end justified the pain.

The Unsane sounded lean, mean and clean after Clay People’s onslaught — which is not a condemnation of the crunchyferocious New York three-piece, but rather a comparative commentary on Clay People’s musical density — as they worked their Lower East Side slamcore thang to perfection. The Unsane sound something like the late lamented Prong, but without Prong’s late-period electronics fetish: fractured guitar, vocals that swung between the tortured and the strangled, frenetic locomoting rhythms, big brutal barrages delivered with zip and zeal. Towards the end of their set, front-man Chris Spencer noted that the Unsane weren’t going to get to play their heaviest song due to time constraints. If he hadn’t told me that, I wouldn’t have known that I hadn’t already heard it.

Biohazard finally strapped on after a way-too-long between set gap (begging the question as to why the Unsane got rushed off if the stage was going to sit empty for an extended period of time) — but as much as I hate to admit it, their ass-kicking eighteen-song set was well worth the wait. Biohazard’s four song opening barrage laid the rhythmic urban-hardcore framework for the set while also concisely presenting the band’s artistic evolution: “Victory” was pulled from 1990’s Biohazard; “Urban Discipline” was the title track from the band’s 1992 disk; “What Makes Us Tick?” was a standout track from the band’s breakthrough 1994 major label debut, State of the World Address; “Modern Democracy” introduced Biohazard’s latest album, Mata Leao.

Bassist Evan Seinfeld and guitarist Billy Graziadei alternated lead vocals both between songs and, even better, within songs. The pounding “How It Is” found their intercutting rapid-fire vocal interplay drawing heavily from the rap aesthetic, leaving the band sounding like some guitar-fortified mutation on Public Enemy with Seinfeld rumbling the beefy Chuck D parts while Graziadei flung the high-speed, high-pitch Flavor Flav lines down between the beats. That song also highlighted the string-bending skills of Johnny-come-lately lead guitarist Rob “Das” Echeverria, demonstrating that Biohazard made a brilliant career move in snatching Helmet’s ax-man after their own founding guitarist, Bobby Hambel, split: Echeverria’s molten-silver tone sounded just perfect when spattered on top of Biohazard’s pig-iron pounding. This is a line-up with which to be reckoned.

And one last thing, in the stuff-you’re-not-supposed-to-notice category. I don’t know if antihistamines made me more light-sensitive or not, but I couldn’t help but note how brilliantly lit this show was, no pun intended. It’s rare for lighting to play much of a creative ambiance-inducing role in a non-arena setting–but to whoever was doing magic fingers on the console for Clay People, the Unsane and Biohazard, I say: Bravo!

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