Show Review: Lightning Bolt at Union Transfer in Philadelphia, PA

Words by Brian O’Neill | Photos by Tashina Byrd

It’s crazy to think that this year Lightning Bolt celebrated the twentieth anniversary of their self-titled debut. To put that in perspective how long ago that really is, at the time a bunch of people thought all of our computers would blow up on New Year’s Eve, Bill Clinton was being impeached, and a sizable chunk of New Noise Magazine’s readership wasn’t born.

The duo – banger of drums and shredder of vocal cords Brian Chippendale alongside bass abuser Brian Gibson – did not do their patented guerilla gig. This may be a concession to the Union Transfer being a more traditional venue where being surrounded by a phalanx of fans could have been tricky. Their last show here in a church basement afforded such insanity and it wasn’t that long ago. It likely wasn’t about them getting sedate in their old age; that was cleared up right off with the nearly cartoonish bludgeoning of “The Metal East.”

They have evolved though; this was especially obvious on the Sonic Citadel material. The band flirts with actual song structures and there is industrial muscle to “Blow to the Head” and “Air Conditioning” could be a pop song in another universe that frankly would be a blast to visit. Frankly, it blew away the band’s minimalistic fare they cut their teeth on and that is high praise.

I am pretty sure Chippendale could probably play anything. He seems as talented a drummer you could want, but like an overachiever, he gets bored easily. To counter encroaching ennui, he plays fast and faster and fastest but anyone who cannot see the skill lurking in such an endeavor is looking at it all wrong. It’s as hidden as his face behind that tattered mask, which is to say, barely.

The other Brian ain’t no slouch either. Playing super-charged punk-influenced meta-music without the benefit of a guitarist all this time has engrained upon him the need to simultaneously provide the explosive dynamics of a lead instrument and also plot out a rhythmic foundation. It’s not easy to be a slave to two grinds, but he makes it look so, whether thunderously plodding or squealing through layers of feedback.

Lightning Bolt could very easily fly out of control – it happens to very capable and well-intentioned noise bands all the time. To be fair, some of them might prefer that anarchistic aesthetic, but anyone can lose control. That’s easy. Lightning Bolt loses their mind but never control which puts them in a fairly exclusive group of chaotic noisemakers. Melt Banana comes to mind. Jesus Lizard too. But of course Lightning Bolt sounds nothing like either of them, or anyone else, really.

Chippendale cracked wise a few times between songs, at one point dedicating the whole set to superfan Jarrod, some pogoing patron front and center. The only song he introduced was “Dead Cowboy,” going to great pains to explain through the perpetual buzz of his personalized muzzled microphone how the formerly anti-George Bush lyrics were now changed to involve Donald Trump. It’s never easy to follow the man’s muse (the aforementioned masked mic is only partially to blame) so the clarification was appreciated.

This was probably one of the more conventional shows that Lightning Bolt is capable of, even leaving the stage for just the right amount of time before returning to close the set with “Mega Ghost” But make no mistake: the lack of a drum kit circle pit and an actual encore after playing a more-or-less standard set length did not mean there was anything normal going on. It was still Lightning Bolt, after all.

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