It’s on the first evening of fall that ‘Brian Chippendale of Lightning Bolt’ scorches his hyperactive trademark into the otherwise tranquil outpost of Tufnell Park. Thus oozing into town under the suitably gory guise of Black Pus in support of his latest, the gloriously abrasive All My Relations, he couldn’t be better suited to the onsetting sensations of cataclysmic decay that each and every autumn seems to bring with it.
Tufnell Park, contrary to popular belief, isn’t as unaccustomed to these sorts of rash onslaughts as one might expect, and The Dome – a surprisingly sizeable function room above a pretty repugnant Irish pub – is no stranger to raw aural erosion. It is, however, only infrequently acquainted with musics beyond the sullen realms of punked-up and blackened metal – a genre Chippendale belongs to in tyrannical decibel level alone.
The feel of the evening is rather more a reconstruction of ATP than it is in many ways attuned to the maledictive devilry of demoniac London promoters Mammut Live, with plasterboard ceiling panelling hanging over sprawling bars smeared with Celtic affiliation. The Swinging Shillelagh this ain’t, although the faces dotted sparsely about the room are mostly the same as those once seen swaying from Minehead roofing most erstwhile wintertimes. Thus if The Boston Arms downstairs may tonight be deemed the disused mini-golf course, then this elevated expanse houses that same avant-garde aggression renowned of Butlins’ Reds, or Pontins’ Room 2.
Lightning Bolt were, for a time, stalwarts – guardians, even – of All Tomorrow’s Parties. Their caustic assaults in unsuspecting chalets became the stuff of sludgy legend, and they next month play their tenth ATP at Melbourne’s Release The Bats. But tonight, with “the other Brian” absent, all eyes fall on Chippendale, his drum kit intensely scrutinised for some while as we gather around his ajar bass drum like wasps to a glutinous jar of certain demise. He emerges, looking more like a gangly, unlikely sportsman from a John Hughes movie than he does one of the left field’s most impressive rhythmists: sprouting from threadbare shorts, the room’s most sinewy limbs; from his soon-to-be-sweat-doused tee arms that appear to be made more from pulsating arteries than they do the muscles prerequisite for such aural torture. The ceremonious insertion of the similarly necessary earplugs follows, as Chippendale dons the mask for the most ominous of mic checks. “Ha ha ha” he cackles, with vaudevillian disdain. “Monday’s the best day of the week! The best day of the week!” he dementedly repeats, equal parts second-tier Mexican wrestler and Marvel malefactor. Certainly were Columbia Pictures ever to go belly-up, Chippendale could doubtless make for a consummately petrifying lo-fi stand-in hoodlum.
But whereas we may expect the evening to begin with a thorough barrage of guttural sonic vomit and pedalboard bilge, much extempore soloing preludes the ineluctable slaughter sure to come. He’s a drummer like no other, disparate bits of his body flinching at differing times, and it’s thus pretty difficult to begrudge him this unanticipated flurry of undiluted virtuosity. He’s no hi-hat on which to rely, his left foot instead dextrously manipulating the most elaborate set of pedals seen this side of Deftones. And not only is he able to apply keen pressure as and when, but he does so whilst simultaneously pummelling out stentorian kick drum shocks and furious cymbal flickers. Four amp cabinets encircle his idiosyncratic setup in almost ritualistic fashion, the deranged ringleader of the tormented mechanical manipulating their every grizzled upchuck. Stand directly before him, and you can palpably feel the atmosphere being displaced from within his eccentrically demolished bass drum.
Though only to observe Chippendale is to marvel at his peculiarity: whether menacing to “just talk” throughout in a malformed growl, or performing this very public form of self-mutilation – he’s at times as torturous to watch as Black Pus can prove aurally traumatic – it’s all in the appeal. There is a naïveté to it, one that’s reflected in the evening’s limited edition t-shirt depicting a certain Charlie Brown, and beneath Chippendale’s outwardly frenetic phrasing lie some strangely comforting cadences. But all this is buried for the most part beyond an impregnable slurry of primordial reverberation and strident malevolence. It’s one you feel compelled to find a foothold in before you’re able to fully comprehend what Chippendale’s getting at, and as such as the show wears on, its danceability is transmogrified from a latent sensation, to a spasming impulse. The pit, swirling increasingly out of control as it gathers exponential gusto to become a vortical mass of wildly flailing exposed body parts, convulses impetuously as one while the scratchy filth of A Better Man begins to really take hold.
Chippendale’s vocal operatics disfigured and redistributed in ravaged pieces of total unintelligibility, whiplash thrashings compel breakneck commotion and a series of seemingly incompatible dance manoeuvres. We move devotedly, involuntarily, though above all tribally to the processed grunts uttered by our trusty sachem. Hoofing it through a sonic “mud pie” comprised of cruddy fury, a totally atonal Marauder suggests that the less musical Chippendale makes things, the more enjoyable they become. And with only a remote strand of melody left to cling to, that one final iota of caution is heedlessly thrown to the wolves as those primitive impulses and primal instincts direct the remainder of the night. Driven by the thumping of sticks and the thuggish stepping on various things, even that most initially pacific of listeners is vigorously throwing fists come its close.
Somewhere or other rather nebulous around there or thereabouts is Word on the Street, Chippendale’s aptly mariachi trill dangerously looped and layered until there’s little perceptible left. He looks to have been savaged by his own exertions – as though he had a piranha dangling from each peg and a toxic squid suffocating his face throughout – though he is, without question, the kind of musician who could’ve gone on to do whatever he wanted. He’s all the more admirable for having opted for such a brutalist stylisation, given the dearth of commercial appeal to such an unforgiving form of aural ruination. Nonetheless, that all come away with an LP in vain endeavour to vicariously recreate the bedlam speaks greater volumes than even Chippendale could. For he can’t return soon enough – with, or without “the other Brian.”