Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Salem @ Glasslands Gallery


I don't think the author of this New York Times review of the Salem show with Gatekeeper at the Glasslands Gallery last month understood what he was seeing. He does a decent job of describing Salem's sound, but concludes that "(their) performance was hollow at the core, aspirated, almost soothing in its inconsequence" and that Gatekeeper had offered "a far more productive, and convincing, approach to the dark".
Gatekeeper were somewhat "dark" but still squeaky-clean Art Institute of Chicago gayboys who sounded exactly like Italian horror film-score maestros Zombie with an 808 drum boost. The NYT reporter downplays this part of their sound and says that they sounded like "80s club music", which I read as "I luv Depeche Mode!". I would guess that the NY Times heard this was going to be a cutting edge gay cultural event (Micheal Stipe and Terrence Koh were also in attendance) and sent a music reporter who was enthralled by the "bright, erotic, alive" atmosphere during Gatekeeper's set ("OMG, goth twinks!"), but couldn't get his head around Salem's real witchery.
I have to admit, though, that I was completely under Salem's spell from the moment the video screens started flickering with candles and burning cars, soiled mattresses and grainy police footage. Through the heavy smoke-machine fog you could barely discern the three members of Salem file onstage looking like solemn, wolfish, preternaturally cool black-eyed backwoods Michigan teenagers. The attention to aesthetics was boldfaced from the start: this was River's Edge as directed by David Lynch and scored by Burzum. The leader was a gaunt pretty boy with Nordic blackmetal blond locks who immediately started slurring a chopped'n'screwed rap, "Trapdoor" without any wiggerish gesturing or self-consciousness. They rotated for the next song and another pale whiteboy stepped up and mumbled his way through a woozy, muffled dirge, looking as hopeless and drug-addled a Midwesterner as eminem ever tried to be. Next up was the girl, a roots-showing peroxide blonde wearing an oversized men's dress shirt as if fresh off some kind of long harrowing night, who smoked and sang an even slower, dreamier song that brought us all into Badalamenti territory, like one of those transcendent numbers from the floorshow at One Eyed Jacks.
Through it all dirty-south rap drum fills rattled and the low-end just warbled and peaked. I would be hard pressed to have to explain to music journalists in attendance what they weren't getting, I was too busy writhing around and intentionally falling over photo-taking hipsters, trying to stir up some chaos on the floor (I had snuck in and proceeded to blow what I'd avoided spending on PBR tallboys). If I had to try to explain it I'd say it was all cigarette burns, dark secrets, ghetto Chicago minstrelsy, heroin, speed, horrorcore rap, midwestern teenage hopelessness and arch darkwave posturing repackaged musically as a gay high-art project that still bangs. As the inevitable influx of Salem copycat bands emerge, I hope the reviewer from the Times will realize that the last word he should have brought anywhere near this futuristic performance is "inconsequence".

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