Bulls on Parade: Dillinger Escape Plan, Live at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Saturday, April 28th
The moments before a concert’s headliner descends on the stage are usually fraught with all manner of excited cheers, mental preparations for two hours of ecstatic sing-alongs, and swaying vibes. Not so that Saturday night for the 550 or so black clad attendees of Dillinger Escape Plan’s first New York show before their upcoming album, One of Us is the Killer. There, when the lights dimmed, and an arrhythmic percussive sound filled the speakers, every man and woman in the room assumed a defensive posture, feet planted, arms extended at chest level, fists balled. Someone whose never been to a Dillinger concert before might have wondered why, with the band’s arrival clearly imminent, everyone assembled looked like they were about to go mano-a-mano with a level five hurricane.
The first 30 seconds of the show would have resoundingly answered that question. The Dillinger Escape Plan, a collection of five men teetering on the precipice between their 20s and 30s took the stage, and immediately launched into “Prancer,” the lead single from their new album, and a classic Dillinger jam, all serrated, careening guitars, throbbing low end bass, and sharp, rhythmically insistent drumming, topped off with the vein popping howl of the well muscled lead singer Greg Pucciato.
From the first note, the first cymbal strike, roughly half the assembled crowd exploded, for lack of a better word, into each other, for lack of a better visual metaphor. You may have heard of some moshing going on at Metallica or Linkin Park concerts. Those nearly avuncular pushes and shoves barely share the designation with what goes on at Dillinger Escape Plan show. Here the rules were simple. Hear the music, hear the frantic scraping notes of “Sugar Coated Sour,” jump into the pit, make no move to intentionally harm anyone, and, beyond that, do what thou will. Flailing limbs, full body slams, crowdsurfing, five at a time, and stage diving, ten. The mosh pits at a Dillinger show is a symphony of movement and well-intentioned fraternal violence as potent and physical as any sound emerging from the stage.
And what music that is. The Dillinger Escape Plan started out as four teenagers from New Jersey playing standard hardcore songs, 1 to 2 minutes in length, usually 3 chords bashed out with little regard to musical progression, to say nothing of innovation. Like any other garage band really. However, their debut album, Calculating Infinity, took the genres of hard riffs and crushing breakdowns of hardcore and metal, added intensely intricate jazz chords and time signature, and then exploded the mix, creating an entirely new genre, Mathcore. So named for its complexity married to heaviness, the genre eventually came to include such legendary bands like Converge, The Mars Volta, and War from a Harlot’s Mouth. But Dillinger were first, and kept on innovating, adding elements in their subsequent records Miss Machine and Ire Works as far ranging as Bossa Nova to pure mainstream pop, on tracks like “Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants” and “Milk Lizard.” In a genre and subgenre where tracks on an album can sometimes blend together in a progression of aural sameness, no one has ever accused Dillinger of repeating themselves.
This was made apparent Saturday night, with the band alternating between the heady screeching crush of their earlier material, and the heavy pop of their later albums. There was the opening track of Miss Machine, “Sunshine the Werewolf,” all massive drum fills and slashing guitar lines, with the lead guitarist Ben Weinman jumping off the veritable tower of amplifiers at the end of that song’s final breakdown. “Gold Teeth on a Bum,” off 2010’s Option Paralysis, began the way it does on record, with distorted sitar chimes leading into a crushing riff that nearly swallows the rest of the rhythm section with its relentless march. There was even an arena style sing-along, to the My-Chemical-Romance-like angst of “Milk Lizard,” with the crowd singing along with Pucciato, “And we were never meant to be alone…” The sweetness was soon abated though, when the barking verses returned. The crowd loved that too.
What did suffer, considerably, was the venue. Not for nothing has Dillinger earned the title of “Most Dangerous Live Band in Existence,” as, by the end of the night, half the tiles in the men’s room ceiling, unfortunately located beneath the stage, had simply fallen off, the reverb too much to bear. The worst of it, however, was reserved for the stage. By the time the band tore into their last song, the definitive Dillinger anthem “43% Burnt,” what felt like nearly half the audience, myself included, were up on the stage, taking the pit to the band themselves, who either got in the mix, like Pucciato, or stood on the amps and continued playing, like Weinman. Halfway through, the stage collapsed in the middle due to the excess weight of 125 moshing, jumping metalheads, The band stopped for a second, laughed, and then went right back into the screaming, dizzyingly complex finale, a musical passage that was accompanied in the past with the lead singer fire-breathing over the audience. Not that night sadly, but the sight of the band clearly enjoying playing amidst their adoring, albeit violently dancing fans was heartening enough. Once the stage was finally clear, and the last notes of the night echoed in the darkened, destroyed venue, Pucciato took the mic and unleashed one last red-faced howl. Rage, like solace, is never too far from the forefront on nights like these.