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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Live: Torche turns into three

Posted by on Wed, Apr 22, 2009 at 5:43 PM

Torche, still great in threes.
  • Torche, still great in threes.

Torche, From Monument to Masses, Dredg

The Brewery, Raleigh

Tuesday, April 21

I don’t imagine I speak only for myself when I suggest that hearing Miami quartet Torche had reverted into trio form after parting ways with guitarist Juan Montoya made me a bit skeptical for the band’s show Tuesday night at The Brewery: Meanderthal—the band’s terrific sophomore triumph, released last year by Hydra Head—found much of its charm in its ability to weld unrelenting Southern metal ballast to pirouetting pop melodies. For instance, “Healer” and “Across the Shields,” which comprised the album’s perfect pop-rock center, offered instantly memorable hooks with doubled riffs and vocals. But that was supported from beneath by a thick rhythm section and two guitars that saturated the lumen between the drums and the voices. What’s more, Montoya—a smiling sort with long black hair he’d let fly in circles during Torche’s sets—was a captivating performer and a really nice guy.

Last night, Torche waylaid any skepticism I had:

Despite The Brewery’s electric rig, which often lost power when bassist Jonathan Nuñez would get loud, and poor vocal mixing in the house, Torche sounded as tight and tempting as ever. When Brooks needed to pull the lead guitar away from the song’s meter and melody, Nuñez and drummer Rick Smith accommodated perfectly, stepping up to fill the holes. When the band entered its customary detuned set finale (Brooks switches guitars once during Torche sets; the second axe is tuned so low that you can actually watch the strings wave around individually), they compensated for the missing second guitar, pounding the sound system harder to make the music thicker. And Brooks—who has often seemed surly in the past—worked to be a better entertainer, whether racing through the crowd while soloing or smiling big between tunes. At one point, the openly gay frontman even said, “Let me hear the ladies! You girls are cuties!” He did his best college dude, and the crowd (in large part, college dudes) smiled in appreciation. It’ll be interesting to see how Torche writes a record minus a riffmaster as strong and as proven as Montoya, but don’t discount them on stage.

Befitting its new triumvirate configuration, Torche was the middle act on a three-band bill, opened by From Monument to Masses and headlined by Dredg. To these ears, at least, the lineup seemed like a self-aggrandizing statement about Dredg’s own rock hybridization. See, Torche is a beefy, charging metal band that can dip its toes in the deepest sludge or crane its neck up to the brightest pop-punk. But From Monument to Masses makes purportedly highbrow post-rock that treats politics as a platform for instrumentals. So, yeah, basically, yawn city. The trio’s middling brand of post-Explosions/Godspeed bears all traces of its predecessors—chiming guitars, basic rhythms that get halved and quartered, cinematic samples—and the Xeroxed lines of a form that no new band should be replicating. In its defense, From Monuments to Masses has been a band for nearly a decade, but its most recent record, last month’s On Little Known Frequencies, is indeed the sort of work that suggests the question: “Wow, bands are still trying to get away with making this sound new?”

The trio was more palatable than Dredg, at least: Just before the band took the stage, the Carolina Hurricanes snuck their fourth goal of their fourth playoff game by the New Jersey Devils. Following that success and a nifty little Torche set with the first 10 minutes of Dredg’s set—dynamic to the point of boredom, with banal melodies and a staid presentation not helping—seemed like begging for an anti-climax.

So I left and won a pancake-eating contest. True story.

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