Ithaca Underground has long been lauded as one of the few music and art collectives in Ithaca that truly keep their ears to the ground and deliver the locals exactly what they want to hear. With that being said, last night’s concert was a dream come true for those who love to let the music visibly shake them up and down, those who feel not fear but exhilaration from the prospect of a mosh pit and those who like to keep their face down and, as Jimi Hendrix famously put it, “wave their freak flag high.”
Last night’s show was kicked off by Ithaca cat-pop group Teencat, whose energetic basslines and straightforward, if dark, riffs were topped off by the optimistic lyrics and strong lead vocal performance delivered by Kari Aldrich.
They were followed by local favorite Shore Acres Drive, a three person-collective that blends emo, punk and post-hardcore and first debuted their music at the Ithaca Underground stage of the 2014 Ithaca Festival. Shore Acres Drive consists of Cornell students Charlie Fraioli on guitar and vocals, Jake Burchard on the drums and Ithaca College student James Manton on bass. Shore Acres Drive started as a solo acoustic project, with their music written exclusively by front man Charlie. However, their new EP Cabin is the result of the three locking themselves up in a cabin in Bovina, New York (in the Catskills) and secluding themselves from the influence of Wi-Fi, cell-phone service and distractions. I got the special opportunity to speak with band members Jake and Charlie before the show. According to drummer Jake Burchard, this collaborative and distraction-free writing environment lead to a “stylistic departure” for the band, characterized by “dynamic play, with softer, free-time sections, and louder, more cathartic parts too.” This leads to mini buildups of tension within tracks, such as their set-opening track “Lobotomizertron,” which had audience members alternatively swaying their bodies slowly in phase with the instrumental music and thrashing their heads to the catharsis of the loud, screaming breakdowns. Similar reactions were held to the band’s third track, “Not Now, Ambien Walrus,” which has a cello track on the recorded version, emulated live by guitarist Charlie using a freeze pedal, which allowed himself to play guitar on top of himself and mimic the building tension and noisiness of the record version. Frontman Charles Fraioli described the aesthetic of Cabin and the newest music by Shore Acres Drive as, “atmospheric post-rock with angst.” Particularly with regards to the new untitled track debuted by the band last night, Charlie and Jake are right on. The audience released their tension almost uniformly as each long instrumental vamp gave way to its accompanying vocal outcry.
Following up for Shore Acres Drive was Therm, the new and improved name for Ithaca punk favorite Lust!, returning to Ithaca at long last after an absence that was clearly felt by their dedicated fans. Therm’s lineup also includes a Cornell student, bassist Lewis Chesebrough. Therm’s set was the most boisterous of the five bands. The music was very fast paced and the lyrics were on the border between singing and shouting. The audience moshed hard to the set. Therm played loud punk music with bitingly funny lyrics while managing to offer up serious social commentary about topics such as isolation and consumerism. The dark humor was well-received by the dark-jeans wearing audience in the dimly-lit room.
After Therm cleared the stage, the palpable and buzzing anticipation for Palehound commenced. Palehound are a quartet of Boston indie-rockers, led by guitarist and vocalist Ellen Kempner, a former roommate of Speedy Ortiz. A group originally formed in response to Kempner’s breakup, Palehound’s frenetic and agitated riffs combine with some downright virtuosic drumming to remind you that Kempner is okay, despite her incredibly vulnerable, angsty lyrics. Kempner’s vocals come with a technically beautiful, but obviously pained delivery that suggest a sincerity beyond what you hear at a typical indie rock show. I got the impression throughout their performance that the band was just barely keeping their temper, relegating anger or some other negative emotion to bubble just below the surface of their sound. This is one reason Kempner’s vocals got the visceral reaction and unanimous cheers they did: she was teasing at explicitly what the instrumentals left to imagination.
Pile, the DIY indie-punk quartet from Boston, was undoubtedly the main attraction for much of the crowd. Fresh off their fifth LP, You’re Better Than This, Pile loves to mix the beautiful with the offensive. Their live set was characterized by guitars intertwining into dissonant melodies and tom-heavy drumming, which combined to give the music a certain density, but not a lonely one. Their sound is dense like an urban center, not dense like a jungle. Pile’s reliance on odd time signatures and unpredictability in their music led to a similarly volatility in the audience. This is the good type of volatile. Frontman Rick Maguire was the mouthpiece for Pile’s vulnerability in a similar way to the way Kempner was for Palehound. The audience loved the set, but Maguire definitely toed the line between lovable singer and total dickhead, as best evidenced by the two part encore. Maguire stated that there were “two ways to go about” the encore. First, a short thrashing number meant for all-out moshing, which Maguire himself described as the “dick move.” And finally, Pile closed on a more amiable note with a longer track, teeming with gorgeous guitar harmonies and softer singing.
The most memorable moment of this show for me was when Kempner of Palehound instructed the crowd to “raise your hand if you’re a freak,” which was met with a hundred fists in the air in solidarity. She went on to remind us how lucky we are to have “a space for the freaks,” which is “something special.” The crowd seemed to agree and left the show with a renewed appreciation for the weirdness of Ithaca, New York, and just how liberating that weirdness can be.
Armaan Sobhan is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.