Live Review: Iceage with Steal Shit Do Drugs at Neumos 6/29/15

Live Reviews
Jacob Webb
all photos by Patrick Luhrs

"Good evening" or "we're Iceage from Copenhagan, Denmark" wasn't the first thing that Iceage frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt said when the Danish four-piece arrived onstage. It wasn't even a simple "hello". It was a startling, guttural grunt that soared over the opening chords of "On My Fingers". That same grunt would punctuate songs throughout the night, and each time Rønnenfelt erupted with one, he would draw the same line: either you're following Iceage or you aren't. Not counting the fascism-related accusations that emerged in the band's early years, Iceage's deathly serious attitude towards their music has always been their biggest selling point or most off-putting characteristic. But, in true punk fashion, it seems pretty clear that Rønnenfelt and his bandmates are going to keep moving with their evocative style of increasingly complex punk regardless of who else is on board, and as they took the stage at Neumos for a set that could be described as anything but crowd-pleasing, they followed through on their convictions and gave a performance as declarative and powerful as their music would suggest.

Opening the night was Steal Shit Do Drugs, whose short, explosive set eventually served as a sharp contrast to the headliner's. For those that didn't catch Monogamy Party (RIP) during their tenure as one of Seattle's most combustive bands, SSDD (as they were billed on all of the show's promotional materials) is the current chance to see the still-electric Kennedy Carda writhe up and down the stage to the sound of hard-hitting, loud punk. Although he wasn't quite in a shambolic state as some of Monogamy Party's more infamous shows, Carda was in fine form on Monday night, making his impression on the audience within a minute of arriving onstage (being the frontman of a band called Steal Shit Do Drugs will help with that) and solidifying it across the next twenty or so minutes the band was playing. When he wasn't thrashing around, shouting his serious-but-sardonic lyrics, Carda's between-song comments ("It's very hot. It's very cold. You know what I mean." / "I went to Quaker summer camp when I was a kid. This song is about doing drugs.") augmented his onstage persona, which seemed to embody both sides of the traditional punk ethos: either not giving a shit or giving all of them. As the first of a string of summer gigs for the band, Steal Shit Do Drugs' set certainly turned a few heads, and regardless if they can successfully get a venue to use their non-abbreviated name, it's likely that there will be more eyes on "Seattle's favorite children" before long.

On the other hand, Rønnenfelt said only a handful of words all night. When guitarist Johan Surrballe Wieth's guitar malfunctioned in the first song, Rønnenfelt calmly remarked "That is unfortunate." Then, without missing a beat, he let out another piercing grunt and led the band back into the song. As a frontman, Rønnenfelt has always been striking, but as a singer, he's never been sharper as he is in 2015. The band's most recent record, 2014's Plowing Into The Field Of Love, is their most musically diverse record by a considerable margin, but at Neumos, they had none of the auxiliary instrumentation that gives the record most of its texture. So without a piano, violin, or any of the other instruments that augment their traditional four-piece rock band setup, Iceage doubled down on brute force, playing harder and often messier than the recorded tracks. To put it bluntly, the strategy worked. Rønnenfelt's vocal performance was often less finessed and texturally rougher than his recorded performances, giving the songs a steely-eyed ferocity that songs titled "Glassy Eyed, Dormant, and Veiled" and "Abundant Living" demand. That stoic temperament defined Iceage's performance, and while some could've interpreted it as humorless – not least when the band went into a completely unironic cover of "Moon River" – it felt more than appropriate for the Danish quartet to end every song with silence and a cold, convicted stare. Furthermore, their detached demeanor only amplified the intensity of their performances, underscoring the band's ability to move from a brooding rumble to chaotic, noisy eruptions. (The latter part is especially true of the rhythm section of drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen and bassist Jakob Tvilling Pless.) As the band worked through the majority of Plowing and a selection of tracks from 2013's You're Nothing, the audience grew more aware of Iceage's uncompromising faith in their performance, and at the end of the hour-long set it ended the only way it could: a brief acknowledgement of the set's final song from Rønnenfelt and a nonchalant exit offstage. But it was that borderline ignorance of the audience that made Iceage's performance so memorable. At times, it seemed if they were acknowledging only themselves as being in the room, framing their alternating musical mania and despair. To be disengaging with a crowd as one thing, but as Iceage showed, to fully commit to merely allowing observation of your performance can result in an intriguing, unique, and challenging – yet rewarding – concert.

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