Hardcore punk-turned-post-punk bands Lower and Merchandise make music that is heavy and harmonious; one feels the weight of drums crushing them as deep bass and rippling guitars fill the air with gloom and doom. But their music isn’t the kind audiences can dance or mosh to — or, for that matter, really do anything to except experience.
Along with electronic artist Lace Curtain, the bands’ show at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco on Wednesday was ambient and dissonant yet brimming with beautiful melodies and lyrics that shone through the loud amplifier reverb.
Lace Curtain’s synth-driven electro-pop kicked off the night with an opening set that, despite a few technical glitches and guitar effects that seemed out of place during the 1980s-reminiscent techno, got the crowd to sway and headbob along with the lone artist on stage. The artist’s bio page describes their sound as something that could “seemingly play out for eternity” — a sentiment that the audience certainly echoed as his set dragged on, losing well-dressed hipsters by the minute to the bar.
Following Lace Curtain, Copenhagen punks Lower — whose major-label debut Seek Warmer Climes is a more contemplative, melodic work compared to their earlier, energy-fueled EPs — decided to forgo a high-intensity performance. Instead, singer Adrian Toubro, drink in hand, crooned throughout the band’s set while the guitar section shredded with a restrained and mesmerizing ferocity that left the audience transfixed. Drummer Anton Rothstein revealed in an email interview with The Daily Californian that “definitely less mature and short fused than what’s on the (Seek Warmer Climes) LP … we’ve been writing music that drifts even further away from the way we initially played … we loosened up a bit I guess.”
Merchandise’s approach to music couldn’t be tacked down to a specific genre, instead drawing on ’80s classic rock and hardcore punk with a dash of Nick Cave-style ballads and David Bowie-esque flair. Singer Carson Cox, bathed in pink stage lights, took Toburo’s cue to saunter about the stage, at times pouring his soul into the microphone followed by his piercing voice screaming, “Dance, motherfucker!” Equal parts funk, punk and glam, Merchandise got the crowd out of their slumber and into a dancier mood; the angst behind Cox’s voice still sang of dread and despondency but provided a beat to move to.
Though the two headliners played music reminiscent of postpunk forbears such as Joy Division and Bauhaus, Lower and Merchandise actively chose to reject those kinds of labels. “I don’t like to limit my music by a set of rules, standards or clichés,” Rothstein says. In a musical landscape saturated with bands that seem to follow some formula or other, it’s a pleasant surprise to see acts that pay homage to their inspirations without rehashing their methods.