“Lots of good times in this room.”
I don’t think I could sum up my thoughts on the Middle East Upstairs venue any better than Gared O’Donnell of Planes Mistaken For Stars. While taking a moment to address the crowd in between songs early in the June 22nd performance, he referenced the small space (capacity 192, I believe) with a bit of nostalgia. And it makes sense, Planes have covered a lot of ground dating back to the late 90’s. But The Upstairs for me has been the setting for some of the most memorable shows I can recall. The minimalist nature of its size and layout just makes the shows there that much more personal. So basically I agree, lots of good times in that room. And June 22nd, 2017 was another one.
This may not be a show many would have expected to find me at, and it is true that I only discovered Planes in the last few years or so, but their fusion of stoner rock and hardcore strikes a certain chord with me. Sure, they may not have been active when I first discovered them (dissolving as a band almost a decade ago exactly), but their return has been welcomed and last year’s Prey was met with favorable reviews. So the live show was a piece I still wanted to experience. To fast-forward and summarize a bit, it delivered. But before we dig into any more of that, we have a couple opening sets to discuss, both of which set the tone for the evening nicely.
The first came by way of Ultra Violet. Kicking the night off, their set was a quick-hitter. Delivering fast and powerful hardcore in the form of brief, lively tracks, they made efficient work of the handful of minutes they were allotted. They announced that this was their first show ever before diving into their set, but you wouldn’t have guessed it given their energy and movement on stage. They seemed completely in their element (nothing to be lost, everything to be gained?) and delivered a fast start to the night. There were little to no breaks in their set as they tried to cram in as much material as they could. I literally didn’t know this band existed an hour prior while I was sitting at the bar, so all was good by me.
Changing things up just a bit was Slow Death. This set felt darker, denser, and more emotional, even though the tracks were still brief and performed without really coming up for air at any point. There was a definite pace and power to their music (they must have performed eight to ten tracks in rapid succession at least), but the presence was somehow more burdening. It was almost entrancing in a way; a set you could almost feel. I obviously was moving around quite a bit with my camera, but it almost felt awkward not being rooted to a spot staring upward at the stage. A bit of a different energy, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed, delivered with quality and precision.
And then we got to Planes. To this point, the night has absolutely flown by. Both opening bands played fast, hard music delivered through short songs without any kind of pause or breaks in the action. So while we had been almost two hours into the show at this point, the positive energy was still high. I mentioned earlier how I appreciate the way in which Planes incorporates influences from a few different styles, and that definitely came through in their live show. Energy and movement were definitely a part of the stage presence — elements that certainly don’t hinder audience attention — but there is also just enough diversity in their sound to keep anyone locked in. And honestly, you would never know these guys ever disappeared for a decade. They sounded fluid, their presence was active yet organized, and they just seemed to be having a good time. As a result, everything about them was very engaging from the audience’s perspective. This ended up being a performance that probably lasted 45 minutes or so, but I enjoyed it basically start to finish. I certainly didn’t recognize everything they played, but everything about their set was so enjoyable it didn’t really matter.
So to summarize, this may have been a deviation from what I usually seek out for shows, but in many ways the entertainment value was still there. It was refreshing to mix up the genres a bit, especially at this venue, and forge another memory at one of my favorite venues not only in Boston, but in general. It felt like a more easy going, casual night than most I’ve experienced there, at least in reference to the crowd (Dragged Into Sunlight and Mgła obviously being in the opposite spectrum). The performances delivered… Planes Mistaken For Stars is absolutely a live show worth checking out, and everything else about the evening was quite simply a great time… I freaking love that venue.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”