Cymbals Eat Guitars
October 21 at White Rabbit Cabaret
★ ★ ★ ★ ½ (out of 5)
In the middle of Saturday night’s show, Joseph D’Agostino, lead singer of NYC-based Cymbals Eat Guitars, paused to address the audience. Awash in the anxious, pulsating lightshow coming from the projector above, and with sweat pouring down his face, he announced that he was having heart palpitations.
“It’s no big deal,” he said. “I just have to lay down from time to time.”
And so, indeed, he lay down right there on stage for approximately two minutes, before standing up again to continue with the set.
It was a moment that aroused a few chuckles from the audience, but it’s also somehow representative of D’Agostino’s earnest, youthful and charmingly honest style of performance. On stage he is straightforward and professional, anything but pretentious; he sings with the energy and exuberance of a precocious high school rocker—and with the smooth-cheeked babyface to match.
Cymbals Eat Guitars draws heavily from the '90s for inspiration, echoing bands like Pavement and Sonic Youth at times. Their songs are not really songs so much as musical suites; they contain no choruses and no hooks. Instead, each one seems to build upon the one before it, with D’Agostino using his voice as an instrument, belting and yelling out his lyrics in a strange kind of winding synchronicity with the path of the song.
CEG opened their set with—appropriately enough—a song called “Indiana,” from their 2009 debut album Why There Are Mountains. It is known as a “road-trip” album for good reason. Not only do the song titles themselves refer to geography and space, but CEG’s entire oeuvre—including this year’s release Lenses Alien—conjures up feelings of movement, of progression toward something, rather than the cyclical stasis of more traditional rock.
It was apparent right from the start that the nuances of his lyrics were going to get lost. This was partly due to simple acoustics; CEG generates a wall of sound with big loud beats, reverbs and keyboard effects seeming to come from all over the place. This will drown out D’Agostino’s enunciation, if not the actual sound of his voice. It’s also probably due to the fact that the lyrics, even if one were to pore over them for hours, are dense and not capable of immediate understanding. This is not bubble-gum pop; it’s not the kind of music you can hope to properly digest in one evening.
One of the peaks of the night came with the performance of “Cold Spring,” another track off of Why There Are Mountains. The song seems to encapsulate CEG’s penchant for songs that evolve within themselves, using pace and rhythm changes to create an experience, more than just a three-minute loop of music.
Opening up for CEG were fellow New Yorkers Hooray For Earth, playing a sort of futuristic, industrial, psychedelic synth rock that was augmented by the same angular, multicolored lights and looped '70s film that played over CEG’s performance. Hooray created an interesting sonic experience; the band is one of those openers that make it worthwhile to get to shows early. Using heavy beats, screeching guitars and jagged synth riffs, they were able to generate a chaotic and yet mechanical kind of drama. This may very well be the music of our impending dystopian future. The song “No Love,” was one of their best of the set.