Music Editor Devin Birse reviews Model/Actriz’s intimately destructive show at Hare and Hounds.
From the moment I walked into v2 at the Hare and Hounds there was a sense of discomfort. Normally that tiny 150-capacity room was reserved for gigs of a more specialist nature, the sort of bands where there’d be less than 30 other people in the crowd. But tonight, it was packed, under the low red lights legions of post-goth young adults talking, subtly, silently, in tones of muffled excitement. Tonight wasn’t just any other gig, tonight was Model/Actriz’s Birmingham debut.
As a treat, the band had brought with them fellow New York noise mavericks Godcaster. The sextet took the stage in silence lead singer Judson Kolk murmuring a simple ‘we are godcaster’ before erupting into a frenzy of blistering drums synths and guitar. The music of Godcaster is unique at once gorgeous and psychedelic yet proggy and metallic. Their stage presence only adds to this confusion with Judson manipulating his body into bird-like movements and singing in either an entrancing whisper or horrific bluesy scream, often piercing through the audience with a series of bizarre movements that only add to the entrancing discomfort of the performance.
Yet nothing in the set was quite as surprising as “Pluto Shoots his Gaze into The Sun”, a tender discomforting ballad sung by guitarist Von Kolk. Her vocals are a fragile yet sharp instrument, the performance only amplified by her journey through the crowd and lack of other instruments. It felt like a moment of intimate painful reflection, one immediately contacted by when she got back on the stage and joined the band for another few rounds of western-inspired, prog, noise-rock obliteration.
A common phrase after Godcaster’s set was ‘Model/Actriz have their work cut out for them’, yet rather than dampening the mood it only seemed to build excitement. Yes, Model/Actriz had their work cut out for them, but if anyone could top that they could. When they emerged ten minutes late the room was packed, the few feet between the merch table and bar now separated by a human wall of tense noise-rock junkies. The first thing anyone noticed when the band comes on stage is lead singer Cole Haden, poised and eager he pulls out some lipstick and reapplies it hushing the crowd into awe before the band dived in. T
hat first track ‘Donkeyshow’, is the perfect introduction to the band, to the way Jack Weltmore makes his guitar sound like the echoes of a weeping kitten, how Aaron Shapiros bass chugs and throbs like a runaway metro, and the power of Ruben Radlauer’s drums as they echo across the room, emitting pure dread. But it’s Haden who leaves the biggest impression, his vocals oscillating between joy and pain, desire and disgust, anger and melancholy. He controls the whole room in the palm of his hand. As soon as he utters the words ‘yes, yes, yes, yes’ the crowd erupts. The whole room shakes with the sound of moshing as one hundred and fifty people dance violently in pure ecstasy.
Yet Model/Actriz’s shows are not merely pure mosh fest, they’re instead moments of curated connection. I felt this first hand during the second verse of ‘Donkeyshow’ when I locked eyes with Cole, and he moved over to me as we sang the lyrics together. I saw this across the sweeping chaos of ‘Amaranth’ as Cole moved around the crowd grabbing hands and crouching down. At one point he and I whispered into each other’s ears about how he wished to ‘see the surface of the water bend’ and ‘the petals on stagger onto me’. But I wasn’t the star of the show rather the whole crowd was. Cole spent over half the gig situating squarely within it dancing and flaying his body as he made these moments of connection, elevating the gig from merely a show to a shared moment of collected catharsis. The poetic yet disturbing lyricism that marked their debut album Dogsbody now emerged in its purest form as a sort of outsider sermon for the lost and damned.
Cole himself is one of the most mesmerising frontmen I’ve ever seen, so much so that he almost completely distracts you from how excellent the rest of the band is, their instruments crafting the stage for his performances. We see them when he takes the mic stand and uses it as a cane, draping his coat over his head and clambering through the crowd for the industrial dirge of ‘Winnipesaukee’. We see it in the extended breakdown of Maria, the band’s harsh noise struggling to compare to the horror of Haden collapsing across the stage, weeping and screeching until Radlauer smashes those sticks back down across the drums and the song erupts back into its groove. We see it in the tender beauty of ‘Sun in’ a rare tender ballad in their discography where Cole asks us to sing with him ‘It’s so bright with the sun in my eyes’. We see it in the final track ‘Pure Mode’ one we were repeatedly asked if we really wanted to hear after the beauty of ‘Sun in’. As it reached its climax Cole carried the mic stand like a machine gun and pretended to gun down the crowd. His face was contorted into misery, seemingly on the verge of tears as if to say, look what you made me do to you.
After the show the band stuck around, to chat and I managed to get my setlist signed with a kiss from Cole himself. Their energy was warm and joyous, it reflected the heart of what Model/Actriz do. A sort of continuation of the confrontational performance noise-rock of Birthday Party era Nick Cave and David Yow of Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid fame. But Model/Actriz seemed to have reworked the formula from destructive excess, into painful gothic intimacy. They show us that gigs can be more than just a relationship of audience and spectator but a communal moment of sweaty catharsis that is heartbreakingly sincere.
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