Heavily distorted effects infused a heady vibration into the grunge-soaked atmosphere of San Francisco’s venue Bottom of the Hill Oct. 7. Absinthe-colored lamps and doll parts were scattered across the walls, serving as soundboards for the two-piece hard rock band Cleopatrick. There was just enough room for the crowd to jump, smash and melt into each other: It was a rock show, and everybody was moving.
Growing up together in the small town of Cobourg, Ontario, vocalist and guitarist Luke Gruntz and drummer Ian Fraser have been inseparable best friends since they were four years old. Now, in their early 20s, the DIY duo is on tour for its debut studio album, Bummer. Drawing inspiration from bands such as AC/DC and Highly Suspect, Cleopatrick enlivens the rawness of hard rock, intermixing it with the grating transparency of modern hip-hop.
The show opened with an electric performance of “Victoria Park,” warming the crowd up for a night of unrestrained energy. It wasn’t until the pulsating rhythm of “Sanjake” shook the ground that a mosh pit formed — one that would morph throughout the night in celebration of the group’s high energy.
Body pressed against body, fans sang along with Gruntz, screaming “My hometown it only makes me feel alone” — the lyrics to the 2017 single “Hometown” that earned Cleopatrick millions of streams and propelled the band to underground popularity.
Before launching into performing “Hometown,” Gruntz recalled how there were only two people in the audience the last time he and Fraser played in San Francisco — a high contrast to the fact that not a single square inch of the floor was in sight at Thursday’s show.
There wasn’t a moment of silence once the band took the stage. Instead of having songs quickly boom one after another, an elongated resonance bled into the space between each song, erasing any sense of time. Sometimes a weighty buzz or a high-pitched release of feedback would erupt from Gruntz’s amp as he retuned his Gretsch guitar. Other times, Fraser would lay down a solid beat to pace out the recurring void. No matter the embodiment, each interval reset the crowd’s emotions, building newfound tension soon to be released.
A mushrooming energy expanded with the band’s rapid-beating tracks, juxtaposing the softer contractions that surfaced during slower moments. When “2008” began, the room immediately tensed. With eyes aflame and mouth wide open, Fraser expressed a gut-wrenching pain as he sang, “I’m sick of being on my own.” Emotional authenticity erupted from his core, strengthening his breath as he continued belting out, “If you need me won’t you let me know?”
Tightly gripping his guitar, Gruntz dropped to his feet, and a disorienting scream purged from somewhere in the room. Was it from Gruntz? Fraser? Someone from the pit? It didn’t matter. At this moment, Cleopatrick brought vulnerability to hard rock, opening a chasm for the audience to fall into — but it also simultaneously offered comfort to cushion the gathered release of pent-up anxieties and frustrations.
Bodies pushed against the edge of the stage as Fraser stood atop his drums, amping up the crowd for one final song. The swampy layers of “Great Lakes” reverberated throughout the venue. Everyone swayed, spasmed and shoved in the pit, recognizing that it was their last chance to let loose. Even Gruntz was eager to free himself from the mic, moving across the stage as he built up a viscous guitar solo that could only be penetrated by the pounding of Fraser’s drums.
Once Cleopatrick left the stage, the physical and emotional heaviness of the night slowly dissipated as people separated. They carried merchandise, dripped sweat and maybe even had a few bruises — remnants of a rock show to remember. With the tour at its start, Cleopatrick has only just begun to get under people’s skin, mirroring emotions through their honest and stimulating revival of hard rock.
Contact Amanda Ayano Hayami at [email protected].