by Jenny Wilson
This was an incredible night at the Crucible. It’s the first time I’ve been tasked (I say task, but it was a joy) with doing short interviews with the artists before their performances. Everyone was lovely and so forthcoming with their answers. And the shows were stellar. So first off, I want to give a big thank you
to all the artists for their time.
The evening’s performances started off with Madison, Wisconsin’s I.X.XI, (who performs anonymously). I.X.XI started his project in 2012, shortly after his sister’s passing. He said that it is a project he initially thought would never see the light of day. But he wanted to finish the album, and being able to perform it would “help close a chapter he’d been leaving open for 10 years.”
When asked about the themes and style we’d hear, I.X.XI. explains:
“It’s about processing loss, survivor’s guilt, and other themes in time… the cyclical nature of life and death, but not in a reincarnation sense… I’m inspired by sci fi, samples of Battlestar Galactica and Westworld show up… and a feeling of dehumanization. The upcoming album starts with epic strings and pianos and then feels like it’s breaking down into something very mechanical, kind of like being an automaton is the only way you can get up in the morning. It was my grief journey, and then as it continues, you build your way back, to find creativity, beauty, and meaning in things again.”
Clad in a hooded cloak and mask, I.X.XI. began his set with the chilling, slowly driving beat of Eremite. Sporting two mics for differently distorted vocals, he ends the song with painful murmurs. He makes a point of immediately launching into each song without gaps. As he says, “I like having people feel uneasy. Everything brick walls… as soon as you think you know what you’re feeling, you’re feeling something else.” The next song, Gone, is painfully beautiful. Darkly cinematic waves ripple throughout, from this song to the next. As he moves through the song, Deep, the vocals become more intelligible, and incredibly moving. By the time we reach Breathing, we’ve moved into a cinematic dance song, with the devastating, repeated line, “Is it enough to say that I’m breathing?” This mantra, along with other moments in the I.X.XI set, brought me to tears.
Being a longtime member of Sensuous Enemy and now also a member of Lorelei Dreaming, I.X.XI is relishing the opportunity to connect the music of I.X.XI directly to his own lyrics. As he says, on his other projects, he’s used to the disconnect between the music he writes and the lyrics written to them. Now he is able to say 100% of what he’s trying to say. He’s saying a lot, and it’s amazing to witness such deeply personal and touching moments in one man’s journey through grief. His set was a beautiful and thought-provoking experience.
Set list: Eremite, Gone, Fractal, Deep Guilt, Breathing, Don’t
I.X.XI’s first album is out soon, with mixing and production by Brant Showers of Bestial Mouths and Sølve.
Bellhead’s website tagline reads: Post-punk male-female duo band. Two basses and a drum machine. No Guitar, No BS. MADE IN CHICAGO. This description fits them to a T, but there is so much more to discover with this band. Bellhead has a sound that bursts from the stage with incredible energy, all led by a down and dirty grunginess that is both refreshing and grounding. Add to all this a lyrical and vocal playful seriousness and you’ve got something very special indeed.
Having both been in the scene and playing in multiple other bands for years (even in the same band at different times), Karen Righeimer-Schock and Ivan Russia decided to start Bellhead three years ago after getting drunk over some chicken shawarma during a snowstorm.
Their doubling of the bass works beautifully as the core of their sound. As Karen explains, she takes care of the low end, while Ivan takes care of frills and chords, sometimes acting like a guitar or synth (though Ivan took issue with such a slanderous notion). She continues by saying that while she handles the lead component, Ivan handles the rhythm. These factors were on full display during their incredible set.
Early in, they ripped into Mercy, a sexy throbber anchored by heavy riffs. Karen says that they encourage people to bring their own ideas to the songs, and this one shows off their more serious lyrical side.
“Hold back my dreams/I don’t want to wake up/Trade in tomorrow for yesterday/Ain’t got a prayer left to say”
These hit you later, as you absorb the fact that the words are just as intense as the gorgeous and grinding music.
There are moments of levity and fun as they engage in brief and playful bass interactions onstage. Their general playfulness with lyrics comes into full view on their hit, Unicorn Bones, which, to my mind, is an instant classic (and a lot of press agrees). A menacing romp, it is an incredibly danceable song while boasting lyrics that keep you wondering what is happening long after the song is done.
Though Ivan says he tries not to think about it too much while writing them, their lyrics are clever and very different. Throughout the song, they play with things or ideas that together mean nothing, as the title itself shows so well.
“Bring me the necromancer, the alchemist, the topless dancer/with the bones of a unicorn, you’ll never be alone/… on deaf emotions hands resist me/she feels the spirit, yet the spirit doesn’t move me/like good intentions with broken glass/she turned from pale to blue as death came so fast…”
Their set is thrilling—with a sound so comforting to any lover of 90s alternative—yet so totally unique and perfect for this era. As Ivan explains, “We come from rock and roll, the programming element comes last.” Bellhead are an exciting mix of rock and roll and post-punk at its very best.
Setlist: Mercy, Fire Control, Bad Taste, Frankenstein, Sidewinder, Snuff Film 1974, Into the Deep, Runaway, Apathy, Nothing as it Seems, Unicorn Bones
Seeing L.A.’s Al1ce live is a study in joy. Not just a band, but also a self-described tribe, Al1ce brings together six incredible musicians to create a world all their own. On this tour, they’re featuring songs from their upcoming two-part album, As Above (due out 10/22, with As Below following after).
From the moment they began with End of Times, they exuded a combination of gratitude and elegance that I’ve never seen in a band. You also immediately notice their striking visual aesthetic, all draped in stylish versions of apocalyptic garb, faces painted in signature battle paint, all created by band member Sasha Travis. As she explains, they want to present not just as a musical but a visual unit as well.
Singers Tash Cox and Sasha Travis weave soft and beautiful vocals throughout the songs, sharing leads and harmonizing. With the incredibly talented Gordon Bash on bass, keys, and vocals, Steve Kefalas on drums and percussion, Scott Landes on guitar, and Carl Garcia on keys, the band creates an aural and visual experience that incorporates all the dark and light that post-punk can offer.
A band in the traditional sense first and foremost, they began with Tash and Gordon at the Musicians’ Institute in Los Angeles, and have morphed and grown in the years since then. Having been unable to perform during lockdowns, they switched to regular streaming of live performances and used the opportunity to “fill out the songs” as Scott explains. And full, and lush, they are. This is on display most strikingly in Breathe. A darkly seductive and soothing song, Tash, Sasha, and Gordon add Middle Eastern improvisation to their vocals and the luxuriant melodies and throbbing beat. The song builds toward a joyful celebration of unconditional love.
And the celebration continued, with Sasha at one point jumping from the stage to ask the audience to join in a communal bashing of a cymbal, all to a throbbing industrial beat. It was a cathartic and extremely fun moment.
But Al1ce are not all dreamy and joyful… They can pivot to righteous anger on their cover of Björk’s
Army of Me, followed later by the exciting For Dead. Led by Tash’s soft berating of an antagonist, the chorus explodes with rage and Scott’s powerful guitar riffs. The song shows off everything that Al1ce
is capable of.
Ending the set with the hopeful Love is Forever, the band has shown why they’ve got a thriving and loyal following among their Mad Hatter Army. This band loves what it’s doing, and really understands how to build a world and leave a lasting impression on an audience. Most importantly, they understand how precious live performance opportunities are.
As Tash explains while thinking on the lockdowns bands have had to endure, “I’m continually grateful, how amazing it is to play live… it’s something we’ll never take for granted.” In a musical scene that favors regular displays of angst and cynicism, Al1ce are a charming breath of fresh air. This photo sums up their general vibe quite well.