Tonight’s gig was one of those shows where you go in expecting nothing, and come home having witnessed everything. If you ‘umm’d’ and ‘ahh’d’ yourself out of buying tickets for any reason – say, if the $100.00 price tag or the fact that it was a school night was too much of a deterrent for you – well you’ve only got yourself to blame. Tonight was amazing. Seriously, seriously, seriously fucking amazing; everything from the first note of the opening band to the last note of the headliner was completely on point. If you weren’t there, point blank – you missed out.
If you’re one of those punters who checks the set times online before deciding when to leave home so that you can time your arrival at the venue with the start of the headlining act, firstly you suck, and secondly, you deserved to have missed out on one of the finest opening sets I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness. From the moment Teri Gender Bender took the stage without warning – the house lights were still up when she shot out from the back – and started bellowing her aural assault out into the half-filled, not-even-remotely-warmed-up crowd, every person in the room knew they were witnessing something special. All eyes locked in on the enigmatic presence of Mrs. Gender Bender centre-stage, now increasing in intensity as she bellowed out a capella, with her band now folding in around her. She starts stabbing madly at the synthesizer – some tweaked-out late night monster-movie madness – the lights drop, the band counts in and on the one, Le Butcherettes lit that stage on fire. The band were hot as a pistol, taking these unhinged, surf-inspired rock’n’roll riffs and driving them straight into the depths of hell, walking this intense balancing act somewhere between the B52s and The Jesus Lizard. Teri Gender Bender is the perfect ringmaster for this three-ring circus unfolding in front of our eyes, playing equal parts Patti Smith and Peaches as she commanded the stage like a boss, howling her soul out into a now awe-struck auditorium completely fixated on her every movement. And every movement is more entertaining than the last, with the band tearing through their set with an unbridled ferocity and self assuredness normally reserved for a headlining act. I can’t help but be impressed, even endeared with such hubris, and everybody else in attendance roars in agreement. One song in and the band have won our hearts.
And the antics, oh the antics. You might call these guys a train-wreck if it weren’t for the obvious fact that that’s the bit; the train ain’t ‘wrecked’ if you only built the train to crash it, right? At one point, Teri ends up tangled in her mic cable (both her guitar and her body are tangled entirely in cable), and somehow she breaks the mic stand in the ensuing struggle for freedom. Not missing a single breath, Teri drops to her knees and sings the rest of the song kneeling and screaming at her keyboard, where the mic has now come to rest. She sang the next two songs from there. She didn’t even try to fix it. What kind of show were we witnessing here? This was like some hellspawn of Iggy Pop and the Dead Kennedys; some relentless juggernaut of energy that absolutely would not be stopped. Just when you thought the room couldn’t take one more ounce of energy, the band get the signal to wrap. Teri grabs all of her gear in one armful without any warning – as in her guitar, her keyboard, and most importantly, her mic, which is now pressed between her guitar and her chest and is howling feedback like a beast – and starts dragging everything she can off stage with her, most of which was still plugged in. Some roadies race over to unplug everything, struggling to end the god-awful racket being made by the gear now being strewn around side of stage as Teri violently struggles to drag it off, along with whatever those cables are still attached to. Once the roadies effectively free her gear from the cable-shackles of the stage, she gives one last bow to a very, very receptive crowd, and exits just as she arrived – a fucking whirlwind. Bravo, Le Butcherettes. Fucking bravo.
After all the hubbub had died down following the brutal Le Butchering we had just received (see what I did there? Eh?), it felt like the energy almost completely disappeared from the room. Maybe it was just because it was a Thursday night, but the energy present seemed to dissipate just as quickly as Le Butcherettes had managed to whip it up, and even with an almost fully-sold Festival Hall it still felt at this point like people were ready to call an Uber and beat the rush home to bed. That is, until the lights dropped again and those all-too-familiar shaker hits from the classic opener ‘Arcarsenal’ filled the air. The true guests of the hour At The Drive In exploded from the darkness like an ancient colossal beast, hitting you in the chest with that very welcome and necessary force that we had been longing to feel since the band’s untimely and unexpected demise at the turn of the century. The band stormed the stage ready to party like it was 1999 (see what I did there? Man that’s two for two – crushing it), and if you had any reservations about their performance, this show was set to not only put those concerns to rest, but to bury them alive. While it’s true that frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala might not be 20 years old any more, from the performance he put in tonight it’s pretty obvious that nobody has made him aware of that fact, as from the get-go we had him flailing around the stage with complete and utter abandon, climbing and jumping from anything and everything he could manage. He stamped at the microphone with the stand between songs, howling “HERE’S JOHNNY!” into the ground like a man possessed, ranting in his own broken form of beat poetry before launching into the new album’s opener, ‘No Wolf Like The Present’ to waves of adoration.
The new numbers fit perfectly alongside the Relationship of Command-heavy setlist, which for me actually helped to put a lot of the new material into context; I had still felt a bit ambivalent toward in•ter a•li•a prior to the show, but hearing these songs live gave them a whole new life for me. Tracks like the raucous riff-monster ‘Continuum’, or the intricately-woven stomp of ‘Call Broken Arrow’ sounded absolutely mammoth tonight, with vocal hooks that grab you by the scruff of the neck and refuse to let go. Real earworm material, you know? Of course, the set was riddled with crowd-pleasers as well; as if ‘Arcarsenal’ wasn’t already enough to send you home happy, the hall echoed with that signature introductory tom stomp, the crowd let out a collective HEY! and the band exploded into the eternal fan-favourite ‘Pattern Against User’, with Cedric launching from atop the drumkit at that pivotal moment just like we needed him to. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez was in no less fine form, wilding out on stage-left like he never grew up and letting that hacksaw guitar tone tear a hole through the atmosphere as only he can. The band tightened their stranglehold with the claustrophobic beast ‘Cosmonaut’ before letting the energy ease off just a touch for the intimate Vaya number ‘198d’. They spent the next two hours swinging from bonafide classic to new number and back, never letting the energy subside for long enough to offer you any reprive, just enough to catch your breath. By the time they made it to ‘Napoleon Solo’, I was a physical and emotional wreck, I had screamed my voice raw, and I couldn’t have been happier.
They finished up with the savage hook-fest ‘Governed By Contagions’ before returning to the stage for one last encore; the career-defining single ‘One Armed Scissor’. By the time they played their last note, I had spent my last ounce of energy. The band gave their goodbyes, the crowd spilled back into the streets, and I bee-lined for the closest souvlaki joint to queue up for a late-night lamb sandwich with the rest of the revellers and pull myself back together. What a fucking night.