Jucifer/Borracho/Akris at Black Cat

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Thursday, February 2, 2012

If there are two things that people will always remember about Jucifer, it will be the frequency that they tour and the sheer volume that they try and bring to every performance. Despite the fact that they make it to the Baltimore/Washington D.C. album multiple times a year (and often play 2-3 venues in the area when they come around), the only time I had managed to catch Jucifer so far was at Maryland Deathfest in 2010. It was a good set, but in a festival setting it was hard to stay focused and really experience everything the band had to offer. So this time around I decided that it was as good a chance as any to check the group out again, and headed out to Black Cat in Washington D.C. (despite the threat of snow) to catch the performance.

Since Jucifer typically tours by themselves and not as part of a package, each of the shows has a different set of opening acts. Akris was the first band of the night, and they had opened for Jucifer at the Frederick, MD date a few days before. I’ve seen this group before about two years ago or so, as when I was a DJ at WMUC (the radio station for University of Maryland) a good friend of mine brought them in to play a set and do an interview and their mix of sludge, doom and a bit of punk using only bass and drums was impressive. Apparently since that time the duo has become a trio and new member Jon Simler provides additional instrumentation and sound effects/noise. What I found interesting was that even on the older songs that I had seen performed by vocalist/bassist Helena Goldberg and drummer Sam Lohman play before the noise/effects have been integrated, providing an even fuller and experimental sound than before. Akris is one of those bands that takes the stage and immediately finds their groove, as the bass riffs are constantly changing while still retaining a sense of catchiness. As you might expect, they have a very low rumbling sound, but there’s also a psychedelic/spacey feel thanks to Simler’s contributions. If there was one issue with the set, it was that however the sound was set up resulted in the noise sections often overpowering the riffs and I found myself wanting the riffs to be just a bit louder. But I found myself impressed with how Akris has already grown and evolved since the last time I saw them, and they’re quickly becoming one of my favorite acts from the Virginia area.

Washington D.C. rock band Borracho was the other opening act on the bill, and although they were a group I was unfamiliar with the samples I checked out before the show were impressive. As soon as they started playing, I was instantly mesmerized. It turns out that Borracho plays a style that’s a cross between southern rock, blues rock and fuzzed out stoner rock that emphasizes riffs, solos, and more riffs. Almost every one of their songs hit the five minute mark, with several going on for at least double that length and in that period of time the instrumentalists were constantly cramming in new ideas. At times it was almost hard to keep up with the flurry of fancy solos and groove heavy riffs, and the audience was often left in a trancelike state just taking everything in at once. I was very impressed with how put together these songs were, as despite the constant changes the instrumentalists were always able to keep one another and they performed a flawless set. The vocal arrangements skew towards the cleaner side of things, as the band’s singer has a gruff but clean singing style that had a distinctive southern rock/blues rock vibe. For the majority of the set his singing was very strong and was well suited to the instrumentals, but I did notice that as he pushed his vocals into higher ranges that he seemed to struggle a bit. But this small detail didn’t detract from the overall performance and the power of the band’s arrangements left me wanting more.

Jucifer has a live rig that looks intimidating, considering that it basically consists of a gigantic wall of amplifiers. Like many of the other doom/sludge groups out there Jucifer make a point of trying to play as loud as they possibly can and while I had left my earplugs in my car once the initial volume made impact with your eardrums your body got used to the volume being hurled at you. Perhaps I’ve been broken in by acts such as Sunn O))) and Swans over the years, but the set didn’t seem overwhelmingly loud even if you were able to feel the waves of sound coming at you. An important thing to note for anyone considering seeing this band live is that they are very different on stage compared to on record. There has been an attempt to address this with 2010’s Throned in Blood, but if you go in expecting the mellower moments from albums such as L’Autrichienne you may be a bit disappointed. What Jucifer does is play super slow, heavy guitar riffs that have a drone/doom feel to them and launch into the more abrasive and louder songs from their albums without warning. Due to the way that this is done, at times it almost sounds as though they are playing some of the same material over and over again but people that are very familiar with the albums will recognize the differences. Despite the sheer loudness the riffs were still easy to make out and at times I found myself just closing my eyes to let the sound wash over me and feel the heavy grooves flow through my body. I was already aware that Amber Valentine has a harsh growl/scream, but I did not know that drummer Edgar Livengood is responsible for many of the higher pitched shrieks. The combination of the two creates a sound that is downright terrifying and entrancing at the same time, and because the band performed for about 40-45 minutes it felt just the right length and didn’t become repetitive. I’m not sure how Jucifer chooses what to play in between the bursts of noise and drone but as long as you go in not anticipating any particular song and just enjoy the wall of sound that you’ll get a lot out of the performance.

Links:

Akris- http://www.facebook.com/pages/Akris/170082017913
Borracho- http://www.borrachomusic.com
Jucifer- http://www.jucifer.com

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