Blastitude 10
issue 12  february/march/april 2002
page 13

by Mike Krings

On a cold, windy Lincoln, NE night, a couple of native sons took the stage with their New York band mates and pummeled the crowd with a menacing show full of screams, guitar wails and an all out auditory assault on a surprised, yet grateful audience. The Liars, one of New York’s hottest acts, played a crowded Duffy’s Tavern and, for a lack of a better cliché, rocked the joint. 

The quartet was obviously at home in the Cornhusker state. Nebraska natives, bassist Pat Noecker and drummer Ron Albertson, were indistinguishable from other bar patrons before the set began. Not long after Crush The Clown finished its opening set, the four members calmly set down their drinks, took the stage and nearly blew a hole in the small tavern.

The Liars rode in to Lincoln on the wave of their debut album They Threw Us All In a Trench and Stuck a Monument On Top, and a recent surge in popularity. Rolling Stone placed them in a list of New York bands to watch, and a brand new record deal on Mute/Blast First also had the foursome riding high. With all the momentum behind them, the Liars blasted through a 40-minute set that left many audience members wearing an eerie smirk of disbelief.  

Opening with “Loose Nuts on the Veladrome,” singer Angus Andrew let out the first of the night’s yelps, “Last night, you and I/we gathered berries with a flashliiiiiiiight,” and had the show underway. The stage was barely large enough to contain the raw energy and showmanship of the band. Noecker and guitarist Aaron Hempell crashed into each other repeatedly while belting out back up lyrics and knocking down microphone stands. Albertson pounded away on his drums like a madman to set the pace for the destructive set. 

Halfway through "Loose Nuts," Andrew and the crew had the show goers in their hypnotic grasp. Anyone who had been sitting down was quickly to their feet, looking for a better viewpoint. Andrew continued to wail out as if in anguish and paced about the stage. He shed his “South Dakota” baseball cap, only to replace it and tear off an overshirt. The band continued to belt out furious bass riffs, guitar wails and percussive chaos.  

As the Liars finished up each tune, wails of feedback escaped from Hempell’s guitar, while Noecker and Andrew paced and gazed out among the crowd. Albertson brought order back to the show each time. A four-count on the drumsticks was the precursor to an all-out assault on a kit that seemed comically too small for the unrelenting drummer. The foursome ripped through “The Garden Was Crowded and Outside” and “Grown Men Don’t Fall In the River, Just Like That,” stopping only to catch their breath between tunes.

Throughout the show, Andrew, the tall Australian vocalist, paced back and forth and even perched himself high atop the speaker system, all the while shouting out haunting, yet gripping lyrics. Noecker pounded furiously on his bass, taking his hands off only to push Andrew or Hempell out of the way when they got too close. Hempell remained somewhat of a mystery throughout the set. Turning to face the crowd once or twice at most, the guitarist would drop to one knee, get up, and bounce about like even he didn’t know where he was going next. All the while Albertson lurked in the background, pounding away at his drums without even a momentary lapse of intensity.

During the second song, I climbed atop a chair to get a better angle to photograph the show. A girl to my right looked at me like I was a fool for not doing so before. Alongside her, two other girls kneeled on a bar table to see the show unfolding before them. I took a survey of the crowd and noticed every chair in the room’s purpose had changed from being places to sit, to being highly sought after visual aids.

As they bulldozed through their set, I tried to find a band to compare the Liars to. None came to mind, so instead I tried placing a name on their style of music. Some may call it punk, hard-core punk, prog, experimental or any combination thereof. Before the show, a bar patron asked me what they sound like. The best I could come up with on the spot was, combine the excitability of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion with the straightforward attack of Fugazi and you have a start. 

While not making direct mention of their Lincoln ties, Noecker did take the time to recognize his parents. The Hartington, NE natives made the three-hour plus trek to see their son pound at his bass and writhe about with his quartet. The bassist pointed in the direction of his folks, who gave a reluctant wave. There was no doubt who he was pointing to. The only man and woman in the room old enough to conceivably have a child near 30 were tucked away near a side wall. 

As they sat contently at their table, I had to wonder what they thought of their son’s show. They had to be proud that he was making it, but like many parents, probably had no idea what the hell their child’s music was saying.  The bass-heavy guitar-wail laden tracks resembled much of what parent’s despise about their kids’ music: noise. Or so it may seem to the untrained ear. The screams and pounding of the rock hard tunes gave me the impression of a band whose songs I wanted to hear again, and of course, again. To quench my curiosity, I approached them after the show and complimented them on their son’s performance.  “Thanks. He does real good,” his dad told me.    

The New York based quartet was fresh off several shows in Europe, landed shortly before the Mute/Blast First deal. The success clearly hasn’t gotten to them yet. Before and after their set, all four members enjoyed the venue for what it was: a bar. Noecker and Albertson looked like prodigal bar sons, tipping back drinks and hugging old friends. 

Before the show, I approached Noecker to ask if he minded if I took a few photos during the show. I intended to introduce myself, and then ask, but that wasn’t necessary. Before I could even mutter, “Hey Pat, I’m Mike Krings, I was wondering…” he remembered my name and answered the unasked question. (My guess is he was clued off to the question by the camera hanging around my neck.) Afterwards, the story was the same with Albertson.

While the Nebraska-born duo caught up on missed time with the locals, Andrew calmly climbed atop a booth and hawked copies of They Threw Us All In a Trench and Stuck a Monument On Top. Hempell appeared to have pulled roadie duty for the evening. While his three band mates wandered about and socialized, he calmly remained on stage, wrapping up chords and laughing with those who approached him. 

Although The Liars have strong Nebraska ties, they brought a show the likes of which many here may not be used to seeing.  The surprise was more than welcome, as evident by the stunned grins nearly everyone was wearing by the end of the set.

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