Within minutes of Lightning Bolt’s vociferous sound check, anyone within earshot of DC 9’s intimate stage and without earplugs already had wild eyes, with their hands clasped against their ears. “How does it sound?” Brian Chippendale, the drummer of Providence, Rhode Island’s noise-rock band asked.
“Well,” Randy, DC 9’s sound guy replied, “it does sound thunderously loud.”
“Is it possible to turn it down?” someone on the floor asked in a concerned tone.
“No…” another voice answered. “This is what they’re all about.”
From left to right, floor to rafters, amps and speakers stood stacked, occupying a huge amount of DC9’s small stage. And more amps were coming. Fifteen, plus or minus. To approximate, rather than be exact.
At first, back in March, there was ambitious talk of a twenty-guitar ensemble opening up for Lightning Bolt. DC9’s booker, Steve Lambert, wanted a DC band to open up for the act, and asked Colin Crowe, guitarist of Buildings, if they could play. Having felt influence from Lightning Bolt for over five years, Crowe immediately agreed, turning to an interesting idea that he wanted to realize – the idea of a large guitar ensemble.
Crowe decided that it would be a Buildings project – he had help putting some composition elements together from bassist Nick McCarthy and guitarist Aaron Leitko, but when it came to searching for a dozen more guitarists, Crowe turned to his musical friends in the area, getting members and figures from other bands and musical communities to join. Britton Powell from Hume, Peter Tran from Connect the Dots, Strange Sutra members Andrea Meneghello and Cameron Healy, these are just a few to name.
It took a lot of reassurance on Crowe’s part to convince everyone it would work out, from Lambert to the ensemble members, and even at times, for Crowe himself. Finding time for approximately fifteen guitarists to practice at once was tricky, especially when many members commuted by foot, bike, or metro. But after a few weeks of hit or miss rehearsals, Crowe felt that “by the time it we were on stage, it was a very relaxing and non-stressful environment, and the music sounded beautiful!”
Before the guitar orchestra took the stage, Wilson Kemp, the drummer of Hume, performed his solo project Macaw, backed by the massive visual setup of both Lightning Bolt’s wall of speakers and the ensemble’s additional amps. Kemp however, used various keyboards, processing pedals, and small instruments to create his entrancing music. During the song “Kalimba”, he looped a thumb piano and added layers of singing along with other complementary instrumental elements to the piece. As for Kemp’s thoughts on participating in musical matters of the night, he liked that the “opening acts had tranquil vibes and seemed to calm the rising tension, permeating DC 9 with a lush, melodic mellow that was quickly thereafter EXPLODED by Lightning Bolt who performed with breathtaking force and fury.”
The guitar ensemble went well. Not only were its members excited to contribute to a project that was opening up for Lightning Bolt, but most of the guitarists were thrilled to share a stage with friends and like-minded musicians. Crowe stood with his back to the audience so he could provide visual cues for musical direction during the three movements of the piece. Starting in F#, the piece had a light-hearted feel, but became progressively louder as it explored dynamics, shifting to a movement in the key of B. The third movement was more of an improvised jam in the key of F, framed by a minimal bass line keeping a steady octave. Crowe felt happy that everyone seemed together, and hopes to execute another performance like this or similar in the future, for special occasions.
As the time approached for the headlining band, audience members started squishing together on the limited amount of floor space for the sold-out show. Not even a minute into Lightning Bolt’s set, people were already splashed by beer and smacking into floor monitors. A few people stood on speakers for a better view or to avoid bodily harm, and some audience members jumped on stage, risking temporary hearing loss for an intimate spot during the show.
Behind the drumset, Chippendale performed with his vocal mask, releasing incomprehensible screams and utterances as he flailed away. Bassist Brian Gibson kept a fixated stare into space and creating driving, noisy bass lines as he switched between overdrive, metal, and other effect pedal options.
“Volume instantly has a visceral effect on people,” Gibson said during a Motherboard interview in April. This was completely evident during their performance, which attracted a packed turn-out. Audience members, having seen Lightning Bolt live before or through documentaries like The Power of Salad & Milkshakes, knew this show couldn’t be missed. Chippendale and Gibson use their music as an outlet of expression through energy, and audience did so as well, by taking in their high-volume music and letting go.
DC9 became a sea of sweating, swirling music lovers, many afraid of partial deafness later, many leaving with absolute tinnitus, even when wearing earplugs. During one of the only quick, quiet breaks of their set, the music cut off after an audience member accidentally leaned against an outlet, knocking a cord out, but fixing it immediately.
“We’re unstoppable,” Chippendale muttered through his clown-like mask, “until someone knocks out our little cord thingie.”
And it is true. The band is unstoppable, because people believe in what they do. Even when their music cuts out, and when they move on to another town, the audience will remember that show at DC 9, and how it brought together fifteen (plus or minus) guitarists, friends, insanity, and immediate release of raw energy and expression.