The last show I saw at Substation was the Frogs in February 2020. On Monday, Brooklyn trio Black Dice made those Wisconsin freaks sound like Simon & Garfunkel. But first, a little bit about the night's openers.
Olympia threesome Fugitive Bubble create short, speedy songs that fibrillate with Emergency Room urgency. The bassist sings with a cantankerousness that calls to mind Courtney Love and Kat Bjelland. Along with the guitarist and the drummer, Fugitive Bubble play with what you might call a tight recklessness, often swerving into triple-time Bad Brains-like ramalama. Their songs zip by in a staccato blur, squeezing out punk/No Wave sparks. Fugitive Bubble's 22-minute set was just right.
By contrast, Humming Amps (an alias for Growing guitarist Kevin Doria, who also records as Total Life) was a sit-down affair, the better to tap his array of effects pedals. Far less intense than his Total Life all-encompassing noise assaults, this set veered toward the gently wavering drones of Evening Star-era Fripp & Eno and Mark McGuire. The sound Doria emitted was not too divergent from that emanating from the power station across the street from the club. The set yielded grayscale waves of six-string hypnosis with glacial shifts in timbre and intensity, with an otherworldly yodeling tone emerging toward the end.
Humming Amps couldn't be more different from Black Dice's disruptive, hyperkinetic m.o. Brothers Eric and Bjorn Copeland and Aaron Warren each have their own tables loaded with gear (Roland SP-404 and Akai MPC-One were the only ones I could discern) and microphones. Bjorn's guitar is the only nod to rock, but he uses that instrument to generate unusual ululations rather than the expected riffs or melodies. Live, Black Dice form a three-headed, six-limbed organism that holistically fucks your mind raw. This was radical and much-needed escapism from Pandemic Planet.
Right from the start, Black Dice's invasive, warped tones and boulders-in-a-dryer beats pucker your cochlea. It's as if they've dropped a dose of DMT into every bar. Warren's dancing, leaping, and air-punching matched the energy of some revelers in the crowd, who'd somehow lucked into an alternate-universe rave engineered by these unassuming-looking dudes. While Black Dice have long had weirdly danceable rhythms in their music, during their nine-year hiatus they decided to focus even more intently on making asses move in most peculiar ways. They've morphed into a unit who make you want to grow extra limbs and acquire unprecedented flexibility. You can hear this method bloom brilliantly on their new album, Mod Prog Sic, which provided the bulk of the set.
In the manner of a club DJ, Black Dice allowed no breaks between tracks, but their segues opted for abruptness and absurdity rather than seamless flow. Nevertheless, they never shattered the hallucinogenic dream state. The music seemed improvised yet rigorously orchestrated. (After the show, I asked Warren for a setlist; he laughed and said there wasn't one.)
Here's the strange thing: For nerdy white guys, Black Dice can leverage devastating grooves. There were moments of funk powerful enough to pulverize George Clinton's Mothership. There were low frequencies that could make Larry Graham say “DAMN!” Near set's end, the potency of the beats amplified to the point where my heart began to somersault. Did anyone else feel that? I got a panicky feeling and regretted not drawing up a will. Then the show ended as if Black Dice had yanked out all of their plugs at once. Perfect.
Afterward, some geeks were taking pics of Black Dice's equipment. Maybe, after buying merch or having sex with band members, this now represents the ultimate expression of fan worship.