Every dark event requires a like-minded soundtrack and on a day in which the geopolitical landscape was shaken to its core, Preoccupations’ brand of morbid, fear-inducing post-punk proved to be the perfect accompaniment to the lingering sense of dread following the US election. Inaudible screeching rang out from the speakers as the four-piece entered the stage, “Let’s raise a glass to the death of the United States of America,” said frontman Matthew Flegal, before the band burst into the militaristic rhythmic crescendo that is ‘Anxiety’. The track gave onlookers a reason to forget the day’s news; ironically having the opposite effect to its title.
I’ve been lucky enough to catch Preoccupations twice in the past 18 months (both during the Viet Cong days) and neither of those gigs came close to replicating this one. It appears the band had a self-reflection period during the rebrand and decided to place more of an emphasis on the overall spectacle of their live shows. Back then, they still sounded great but Flegal’s persistent comedic interactions didn’t work well with the bleak output they were attempting to portray. It was hard to immerse yourself into their dystopian compositions if, five minutes before, he had joked about a Big Mac he had consumed earlier in the evening. For this show, he barely uttered a word, allowing the listener to the appreciate the dark soundscapes in isolation. Furthermore, the light show has also received a makeover with each member flagged by a row of retina-bending visuals, resulting in four prominent silhouettes on stage, bringing further validity to the experience.
They may have ditched the aesthetics of the Viet Cong-era but they still retain a fierce loyalty to the tracks on that record, with the setlist borrowing from the two albums in equal measure. The guitar riffs and technical drum patterns from the likes of ‘Silhouettes’ and ‘Continental Shelf’ coexisted seamlessly with the jagged bass and warped synth that are prominent in songs such as ‘Stimulation’ and ‘Degraded’. Drummer Mike Wallace’s rhythmic style is the key facet that sets Preoccupations apart from their contemporaries though. His ability to amalgamate electronic reverberations with normal drum patterns in productions like ‘March of Progress’ and ‘Memory’ is a unique element that comes across perfectly in a live environment. Other than ‘Death’ (more on that track later), ‘Memory’ has evolved into the lifeblood of the band’s show. Initially a standard industrial number, it comes to life with a notorious synth line before you’re coerced into a Power, Corruption & Lies-esque stomper for the final six minutes.
Opening proceedings at a stupidly early start time, Cold Pumas’ brand of krautrock-tinged post-punk had the crowd alternating their heads from side-to-side in subconscious appreciation throughout. With the singer/drummer placed strategically in the middle along with his bass player/rhythmic partner in crime, the pair rarely escaped from their devoted motorik framework. This gave the guitar pair on either side a licence to explore the elongated soundscapes with a variety of spiky riffs, heavy chords and effect laden psychs. Although the four-piece threatened to show glimpses of their melodic underbelly with ‘The Shaping of the Dream’ and ‘Rayon Gris’, the lion’s share of the set was made up of the pounding, motorik repetition they’ve become known for.
Preoccupations finalised the night with their aforementioned magnum opus ‘Death’ in suitably disturbing fashion. The track clocks in at just over 11 minutes on record and that figure is increased further when performed live. Forever lingering on the precipice of chaos, it threatens to come off the rails before jolting you back into position for a final five momentous minutes. The overriding theme of the self-titled LP is an aching sense of fear, sprinkled with violent imagery and Flegal’s disconsolate wordplay. This encapsulated how the depressed crowd was feeling on Wednesday and it perfectly soundtracked the gloom-filled day.