by Dave "Scout" Tafoya
If you had given me the Cymbals Eat Guitars record after their show last Saturday at Boston University Central, I probably would have laughed and said you'd made some sort of mistake. Don't take offense just yet, their record Why Are There Mountains is a heavily produced, oft serenely languorous, oft slackerish and crunchy rock record that strikes a near-perfect balance between its disparate elements. The show that I and a few dozen others saw on Saturday, however, was quite a bit different from that. Throwing their dynamics almost entirely to the wind, the Staten Island band came out screaming and left in a hale of distortion. It was all fury and dizzying guitar athletics, and I know I wasn't the only one who was blown out of the front row. Rock this intense requires a break.
Perhaps it was my proximity to the band but I simply wasn't prepared for the sheer volume and energy from a band whose debut was so calmly assured. Singer Joseph D'Agostino told me beforehand that this was effectively their 'melting faces' tour. They were making a short stint around the country to hook fans in little venues like BU Central (a pool hall and game room when not hosting bands) before embarking on a more serious headlining tour that will start with their impending trip to Europe; hittin' em hard and low, as it were. Their all-out aural attack was quite a surprise. D'Agostino roared like a lion for most of the show, turning songs like "...And the Hazy Sea" from psych-gaze into a song Dinosaur Jr. might have written in their heyday; blistering yet lackadaisical. D'Agostino's guitar playing, incidentally, is absolutely stunning; he has the chops of James Iha and the inventiveness of Jonny Greenwood or Will Sergeant. His shredding and screaming were the two definitive features of that night's show. And powerful though they were (he was like a one-man metal band), they did occasionally undercut the brilliance of his songwriting, drawing the audience away from the little things that make Why Are There Mountains such a powerhouse. Take for example "Wind Phoenix." On the record, it's a playful and slightly noisy Pavement-esque track with skipping guitar lines and an overall pleasing feel; live the song became their raucous, solo-laden closer, the one meant to keep the ringing in your ears long after you've gone home.
After getting used to the volume I started to focus on the rest of the band. The volume was, of course, helped by Matt Miller's assured drumming and together with new bassist Matt Whipple, they make quite an impressive rhythm section. Whipple's fingers were almost as taxed as D'Agostinos, constantly running Specials-style ska riffs, and Whipple and Miller did a most excellent job supplying the fast-and-furious changes in volume and speed to keep up with D'Agostino's ear-splitting charge. Each band member had his own personality on stage and it's both awe-inspiring and more than a little overwhelming. With everyone essentially playing lead even as they anchor the song, the group projects enough energy and ferocity to power an entire town (D'Agostino doesn't call himself Joseph Ferocious, for nothing, I guess). But it can be hard to keep up with them. I had to take myself away from the PA and hang back for a bit to avoid hearing loss and whiplash. Consider my face melted.
(CEGs is currently on tour and heading to Europe in November. Tour dates can be seen here)