Sunday January 25th, 2004 at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA
Noname Maddox, Captain Cutthroat, Alchemilla, & The Device

Shaun Andruk of Noname Maddox Casey Trombley of Captain Cutthroat Kathleen Burke of Alchemilla The Device [more]

It's cold and the bus didn't come. You're as tired of reading this story as I am of writing it so we'll just move on. But first, real quick, my toes hurt, a lot. So yeah moving on...

Alchemilla put me on their guest list in hopes I'd come and take pretty pictures and write pretty words about the band. While I appreciated the monetary savings, it was even nicer to have the cute gal working the door recognize my name on the list, and simply wave me in. This is as close as I'll ever get to passing through the velvet ropes. This gesture was particularly useful as the opening band was already ten minutes into their short set when I arrived (see the bus didn't come and I had to… oh yeah, right).

Anyway, when I walked into the club's inner sanctum, I was surprised to see so many people. There must have been seventy-five or eighty folks in the room, all of them to see local bands that I had never heard of, and on a Sunday night no less. Although the crowd was sizeable, it was pushed into the back and sides of the room leaving the area in front of the stage wide open. This meant my entrance into the club was just as noticeable as the shirtless singer pacing and flexing on the stage. I tossed my coat, gloves and scarf beside the stage and pulled out my camera to document what I could of the opener.

As information on The Device is scarce, I'll simply make up some back-story to keep you interested. I imagine this quintet of angry, white guys is local. I bet most have been in a hardcore band or two, and despite cutting their teeth on Metallica and Pantera, it was Hatebreed that really made an impression on them. As such, the band is built upon straightforward metallic hardcore. The guitar is crunchy, and the vocals are gruff- sometimes reaching a death metal growl. The largest variation to form comes from the added synthesizer, and the various crunching effects it provides. In this way, the band delves ever-so-slightly into Godflesh realm. With no synchronized jumps (or jumps at all) to keep the audience entertained, the burden of showmanship fell squarely on the large, perfectly waxed shoulders of the vocalist. Unfortunately his singular move seemed to consist of merely bending at the waist, clutching the microphone in his right hand, and pinning his left arm behind his back. Oh wait there was an angry grimace too. Either way, it just wasn't enough.

What do The Device and the evening's second band, Alchemilla, have in common? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. While Alchemilla isn't an easy band to pigeonhole, the sound is certainly not metallic or angry. Alchemilla is, quite inauspiciously, best described as a rock band. In fact, it smells a bit like a jam band. They can be lush with atmospheric elements provided by the two guitarists, giving the band a bit of an alternative swirl about them. While this all is familiar, there are no easy band comparisons to be made here.

The focus of the band is vocalist Kathleen Burke. Her voice is full with a pleasant vibrato, and although generally subdued, when motivated, she shows a nice range from brash to throaty. Although not a commanding icon on the stage, she does move well. While many vocalists seem to have a "what do I do with my hands" dilemma (one shared by straight white guys when they dance, I might add), Burke seems entirely comfortable with herself on stage. Of course, she should, as she's been fronting this band for four years. Furthermore, while the band hunted for a new rhythm section (recently adding drummer Dave Clark and bassist Chris Eskola), Burke found herself leading an acoustic version of the band for intimate audiences on the coffee shop and folkie circuits.

While the Alchemilla had nothing in common with the opener (or the other bands as we'd all soon learn), the audience was polite, attentive, and surprisingly thrilled by the band's unexpected genre-crossing cover of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android." Aside from that bright spot of curiosity, the bulk of the audience was merely bidding time until the next local band would takeover the stage. Those who were there strictly for Alchemilla left in an obvious mass immediately after the band's set.

Ostensibly, the remaining members of the audience were there to celebrate the release of a new CD from Captain Cutthroat. Now you can call me a cynical, elitist bastard if you like, but the availability of a CD-R doesn’t seem to warrant a gala event. Although not a watershed moment in anyone's life, the band's fans were out in force, and rowdy enough to ensure everyone knew it.

Like most bands, if you were to ask Captain Cutthroat whom they sound like, they'd draw a blank. They'd probably tell you how they mix jazz with metal and come up with a sound that's all their own. Let me burst their bubble and save you some time, the band sounds like Mr. Bungle. This isn't new, it's just very niche. Innovators in this field (like the immediately linkable Mike Patton and Frank Zappa) have always had a small base of rapid fans, while merely bewildering the larger audience at whole. Captain Cutthroat continues that polarizing trend, as well.

Singer Phil Desisto shifts his voice everywhere, but seldom seems to take it seriously. What it might sound like if he actually sang is anyone's guess – particularly when he is so fond of projecting his vocals through a distorting toy megaphone. Vocal quality isn't terribly important to bands like this however; as long as the vocals are interesting, they don't need to be good. To be branded a critical success, two things do need to be above reproach. First, the band must be tight. Captain Cutthroat does succeed here. In fact, excellent drummer, Joe Tavano, leads the band through all sorts of interesting phrasings that would lose most bands (and most potential fans). They do, however, shine here. Second, the guitarist has to be interesting and painfully talented. Although guitarist Rob Picardi may become that guitarist, he is just not there yet. There's no doubt he's quite adept at shifting metallic phrases, but there is little ingenuity and expressiveness in his playing. Frank Zappa (or even Dweezil) he is not.

When Captain Cutthroat finished their long set, the remaining audience pretty much cleared out. Four or five tough guys moved towards the front of the stage while the dozen or so others still in the club retreated to the sides. I, however, stayed right up front, as I was curious if this was the band that would tie the bill together. Would Noname Maddox turn out to be a hardcore fusion jam band? Even if it would wrap things up nicely, would I ever want to hear such a chimera? Probably not.

I didn't have long to ponder the question, it was all clear as soon as blurry-eyed vocalist Joe Enos stood up on stage and launched the band into a stoner nu-metal attack. The tough guys upfront responded with the "furious dance of the flying fists" sending my camera and me ducking for cover. I stood back a bit, taking in the sound. Although not residing in the same sub-genre as any of the evening's band, their aggressive metal sound was mostly linkable to openers The Device. While the band normally deals heavily in samples and atmospherics, creating a spooky, Korn-esque sound, samplemaster Mike Lacerda wasn't able to make it to this show. As a result, this version was more obvious and loose, recalling sludgier acts like Eyehategod or Bongzilla.

To get right to the obvious, Enos was hammered. He announced this as if the audience couldn't tell from his stagger, his nodding head, and lifeless movement. As could be expected, his vocals were just as flat. The early portion of his stage show consisted of Enos staggering around completely unaware of the audience, and breaking at least one microphone. The middle portion found Enos weaving the floor in front of the stage, where he looked back at his elevated bandmates. After one number he looked up at his band stating, "Hey you guys are good!," and then clapped for his bandmates. I wondered, half serious, if Enos even knew where he was. When the soundman announced the band had only one song left (like a referee, he was forced to call this one early) Enos returned to the stage (with some help from the guys in the audience), where he soon collapsed onto his back. It was there, lying on his back, singing up to the ceiling, that Enos and Noname Maddox completed their set.

On television, when someone is getting framed, or about to be caught doing something terribly embarrassing, I look away. I'm not one to watch a train wreck, so I was glad the soundman ended this show when he did – it was simply too painful to watch. The rest of the audience seemed relieved as well. There was no chatting, no one last drink, not even any music; everyone just gathered their coats, and with car keys in hand, slipped out of the club. I, of course, didn't have car keys; I had to go wait in the cold and hope my bus would come (sorry, I know that I promised I wouldn't say anything more about that.)