Hearing on the Side of Caution: Summer Concerts That Require Earplugs

Isis

Millions of fans agree: Music sounds better when it’s played loud. Not just loud, but loud. Take the volume of the opening scene from Back to the Future—where Marty McFly gets blown across the room by his guitar amp—and add to it the roar of the Concord doing a flyby over Niagara Falls, and you’ve got a real concert. But if you find yourself in pain the morning after, gritting your teeth whenever someone starts shuffling dishes around, that’s an indication that it’s time to start wearing earplugs. With earplugs, you can have it both ways this summer—go ahead and see that band that sounds like an idling vacuum cleaner, but prevent hyperacusis. Bring along appropriate accessories.

Enjoying Baltimore-based Teeth Mountain doesn’t require full-on plugs—a little wadded-up toilet paper jammed in your ear canals should suffice. The group, somewhere in the no-man’s-land between Tony Conrad ’s minimalist drones and the impulsive pounding of a community drum circle, has found fertile territory for music-making. It’s heavy on the rhythm, but not in a funky or syncopated way. Rather, the band locks in on a single repetitive groove and holds fast, letting spacious keyboard and cello tones slowly rise out of the background until they’ve morphed into a skull-rumbling wall of vibrations. They play the 9:30 Club on May 17.

Sonic Circuits, D.C.’s annual experimental/new-music festival, has expanded into something of a franchise. The program run by the D.C. chapter of the American Composers Forum now hosts events year-round, with the aim of providing a more consistent forum for a range of forward-thinking musicians. Many of those experimental tinkerers will perform at Sonic Circuits’ forthcoming all-day Artomatic event on May 30, including folk/improv guitarist Layne Garrett, psychedelic ramblers Kuschty Rye Ergot, and Tone Ghosting, which has Electric Possible founder Jeff Bagato scratching records with an electric saw. The acts vary in volume—just plug your ears with your fingers as needed.

It’s a common tale of post-hardcore life: Four young, angry men form a band. They write songs, break strings, and pop blisters playing the deafening music of youthful discontent, traveling the country one dank, cat-hair-filled basement at a time. Then they break up and get real jobs. Years later, some Europeans e-mail them looking for leftover T-shirts and the spark is reignited. This isn’t exactly what happened to 1.6 Band, but it’s pretty representative. And now, thank god, the New York quartet has hit the reunion stage of their careers. Back when Long Island was still raging against George Bush Sr., 1.6 Band was the East Coast’s answer to the Minutemen—using head-spinning rhythms, shouted vocals, and flinty guitar to bring politics down to street level. Wear a pair of ridiculous, air-traffic controller ear muffs when 1.6 Band plays Velvet Lounge on June 17. It’s an old-school show, so no one is going to judge you for looking silly.

The orange foam earplugs that are the choice of roadies and show security are best for the Coke Bust show at Alfishawy Café on June 6. The D.C.–based thrash band’s songs are loud, snotty, and consigned to vital one-minute bursts of full-blast energy. All too often, a temperance-oriented band will make one vehemently dogmatic record and then, as the members get a little older, they start to wander off-message—Coke Bust isn’t having it.

The formula that Isis employs in its music, and on its new album Wavering Radiant, in particular, is narcotic enough that the band’s records should probably be obtainable only with a doctor’s prescription. By setting the growls and groans of metal to ethereal atmospherics, Isis has created maximum-strength teenage music. It’s angry and sad at the same time, and if young people of average height and weight are exposed to three or more songs, there’s a pretty good chance that they’ll vanish into a self-absorbed stupor. Not that you can’t get Isis if you’re beyond puberty. But you probably can’t make the same visceral connection as an 18-year-old—you’ll just have to settle for appreciating the band’s chops and applauding its expert control of loud/soft dynamics. When Isis comes to Black Cat on May 30, it’s time to spring for custom-molded earplugs, which will let you enjoy the band’s nuance, but dull its heaviness.

Teeth Mountain at the 9:30 Club, Sun., 5/17, at 8 p.m. $12

Sonic Circuits at Artomatic, Sat., 5/30. Time TBA. FREE

1.6 Band at Velvet Lounge, Wed., 6/17, at 9 p.m. $10

Coke Bust at Alfishawy Café, Sat., 6/6, at 6 p.m. $6

Isis at Black Cat, Sat., 5/30, at 8 p.m. $13-15.

2009 Summer Music Guide

2009 DC Summer Music Listings

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Kid Rock: Family-friendly Summer Concerts

Hearing on the Side of Caution: Summer Concerts That Require Earplugs

Show Me Love: The Best Date Concerts of the Summer


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