w/Big Business, Red Sparrows, Golgotham Sunrise
Sun Aug 14, Neumo's, 8 pm, $10, all ages.
Pelican's latest publicity photos aren't exactly the kind of media supplement one might expect from a band trying to push the "serious artist" image. You'd think four skinny dudes from Chicago with four critically revered releases on "thinking man's metal" label Hydra Head would know better than to pose with their shirts off while acting sort of, um, dorky (in one shot, guitarist Laurent Lebec's pants are down and drummer Larry Herweg's tit-rings are exposed as he approaches Lebec from behind). Not that Pelican seem to give a shit. "If Mogwai can pose in the snow, and you can't even fucking see them, we can certainly pose in our undies," Lebec says. As we talk, the guitarist is sweating his bag off in the stiing heat of his Chicago apartment, where, incidentally, he refrains from using bodily drying agents. "I'm French, so I don't rock the Gold Bond," he laughs. "I'm au naturel down there... What am I supposed to do? It's God's own sweet nectar."
Mercifully, Pelican has more to offer by way of nectars than Lebec's presumably rancid undercarriage sweat. The band's latest album, The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw (Hydra Head), is an instrumental tour de force that blurs the line between rock music and transcendental euphony. Lebec, along with Herweg, guitarist Trevor de Brauw, and bassist Bryan Herweg (Larry's brother), have been hinting at supernal aspirations since, well... at least 2003—the year Hydra Head released the band's Untitled EP and its full-length successor, Australasia. And while all of Pelican's releases—including this year's March into the Sea EP—vary in terms of dynamics and subtlety, the core elements remain consistent: Booming major-chord mastery, torrid riff cycles, no vocals, and an overwhelming sense of personal triumph. "I've never been in a band where you sit around and theorize your next direction," Lebec says. "And it's especially irrelevant when you don't have lyrics, so it's pretty much always open to interpretation anyway. The new album isn't as slow as Australasia, so it's not like you're strapping on lead boots and sinking to the bottom of the ocean. I hesitate to say it's more rock sounding, but it really is the difference between an old-school rock record and, like, a metal record. We wanted something a lot more urgent."
It's that feeling of carpe diem (Lebec likens Pelican's musical motivation to that of Queen's "Keep Yourself Alive") that propels The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw through the stereo field like some sort of inspirational edict—a description that only sounds like cheap hyperbole until you actually slap on a pair of headphones and blast the living shit out of the album itself. Unlike most bands that combine "instrumental," "rock," and/or "metal"—kicking structure to the curb in favor of drug ambience and terminal monotony—you don't need to be pilled to the tits on crappy downers, low-grade painkillers, or whatever it is that Dylan Carlson sprinkles on his cornflakes every morning to get in the mood. Stacking mercurial power-drones up against endlessly malleable major-chord grooves—complete with extra acoustic guitars this time around—Pelican are about one album away from being able to make the sky crack open and drench every last one of us in the not-so-cleansing rain of whatever it is the powers that be are pumping into the stratosphere these days.
Of course, the fact that there's not some dimwit "singing" over the whole thing helps a lot in terms of the listener's imagination. "I have a tendency to fall asleep listening to my own music," Lebec says. "It's not out of boredom—I just have this tendency to drift off. It's a freeing experience, and I get it from a lot of other bands, too. In the absence of vocals, I really think people have to sort of pay attention to things they usually avoid because they've been conditioned to listen to music in a basic pop format. But when you're forced to listen to 50 minutes of nothing but guitars and drums and bass, you just might find yourself awakened to things that you've never noticed before."