by Bryan Culver
The mood inside the Boot & Saddle was profound. Blurbs of conversation broke up the otherwise silent room, as eyes were focused on the dark-red lit stage—Suuns, gloomy noise-rock auteurs hailing from Montreal, were preparing their instruments for their next song.
Outside it was cold to the bone. It was Friday night, but South Broad Street felt drowsy and subdued. Boot & Saddle is the city’s most down-to-earth music venue, featuring a wide range of off-kilter sonic flavors: from local punk bands and singer-songwriters, to indie rock standbys that can quickly sell-out due to limited standing room. The bustling pace of the bar, matched with the warm ambiance, provides a cozy and amicable space ideal for what often feels like a slightly more relaxed and personal performance.
The evening’s opener, Moon Bounce, the pseudonym for Philadelphia local electronic artist Corey Regensburn, didn’t leave the room in a state of religious-like ecstasy, but he delivered a nonetheless entertaining set.
Regensburn blasts together vibrant particles of beats sampled from a wide range of sources—it’s infectiously quirky and outlandish, resembling both Animal Collective’s freak-out psych-pop experiments, as well an R&B undercurrent that was hard to put a finger on. It would pair well with a UFO sighting-themed rave, if such an oddball even existed. His stage antics were also quite amusing. Granted, when he approached the stage there were only five people in the room. He jokingly remarked, “wow…didn’t expect to see so many show up.” He proceeded to peel off his heavy winter coat, rhetorically pondering, “is it derobing or disrobing?” He quickly settled the debate adding, “I’m just going to unrobe.”
As Moon Bounce finished up, the crowd began to grow. Suuns are a serious band that set the tone when they take the stage. There isn’t an elaborate stage crew at the Boot & Saddle so it’s not unusual for the band to set up themselves. Situated next two me were two avid Suuns fans that had driven five hours that evening to see them perform. They were jittering with anticipation. I knew I was in for a treat.
When Suuns broke into “2020”, perhaps their best-known tune, the crowd cheered with exhilaration. One of the Pittsburgh visitors even blurted out “thank God I got to hear this once in my life, I can die happy now.”
At some point during the set it became apparent that lead guitarist/bassist Joe Yarmush was experiencing an equipment malfunction. A blown amplifier fuse. The bulkishly-built figure, whose dangling strands of dark hair dramatically obscure his face when he performs, clutched a can of beer from the floor and silently strode off to the far right side of the stage, hunching down into a squatting position. It was a primitive pose.
The dark-red lit stage—the primeval music—the astutely focused audience. Everything jived.
A technician gently maneuvered through the dense crowd, hauling a replacement Fender amp—Yarmush automatically stood back up once it was plugged in, and ventured back to the front of the stage.
“Just electronics,” he quipped. The audience understood. The room was still impeccably quiet.
Wiry-framed lead-singer/guitarist Ben Shemie assertively spoke into the microphone: “resist.”
10 seconds or so passed and then again: “resist.”
A scraggly guitar hook was thrown in to accompany the montra as the tempo gradually increased tempo, “resist…resist…resist.” The rest of the band jumped into a mesmerizing rendition of the aptly-titled tune “Resistance”, featured on their 3rdfull-length album Hold/Still, released this past April via Secretly Canadian. I had listened to the track several times prior to the show, but live Suuns executed the song even more exquisitely than the recording.
After that song Shermie announced that all proceeds from merch sales that evening would be donated to the ACLU. The audience enthusiastically cheered approvingly.
The audience was completely enveloped in Suuns potent mosaic of dark ambiance and pulsating bass lines—music full of juxtaposition: from mellow guitar segments and lush synths, to aggressive drum beats and visceral streaks of metallic machinery.
Suuns gave a stunning performance that left the audience speechless.