Lightning Bolt, on the surface, seems simple enough. Two guys, Brian Gibson on Bass and Brian Chippendale on drums, are responsible for making enough noise to fill stadiums. Their music is an all out aural assault, yet it’s not all just free improvisation and noise as it may appear on the surface. There is a subtlety to their art that can easily go unnoticed to those unacquainted with the band’s output.
Based out of the Providence, Rhode Island artspace known as “Fort Thunder”, Lightning Bolt originally began as an art school project when both members were attending the Rhode Island School of Design. The music that Lightning Bolt creates is powerful and energetic and incessantly so. It seem to break the laws of physics that a band can produce 5 albums of impossibly intense music without letting up, but they have. Their albums are best enjoyed at the loudest volume possible, they almost demand it. This is not quiet music by any means. It seems to eschew the values of any typical touring band, more concerned with keeping the energy level high than admitting that there needs to be time to cool down. The music is urgent. This is also true of their live shows. They are never willing to give themselves a break.
Seeing Lightning Bolt live is another experience entirely. They usually play directly in the crowd, instead of up on a stage, with the crowd encircling them and at times pushing against the drums, which are placed directly in front of all of the sound gear. The wall of gear is stacked precariously behind the Brians and is seemingly thrown together from odds and ends that creates an astonishing level of volume and feedback that serves as a constant counterpoint against which they are playing their music through.
Gibson stands stoic to one side, nearly expressionless, fingers effortlessly flying up and down the neck of his bass which, incidentally, is a 5 string tuned in 5ths like a cello with the two highest pitched strings taken from a banjo, which really helps to cut through the sludge of the distorted lower register of his instrument. Meanwhile Chippendale is a flurry of non stop excitement as he desperately and relentlessly fills every possible nanosecond with a drum hit or cymbal crash. He is a new breed of drummer, the best kept secret of the underground crowd and a testament to human endurance. The complexity and accuracy with which he plays is a sight to behold, if you are able to stand still long enough and not be swept away in the pulsating crowd to watch.
The two lock into a groove and work as one, churning out music that is at once trance inducing in its sometimes minimalist compositional approach that is at the same time loud, foreboding, and fierce but firmly grounded in structure, yet not so much that there isn’t room for them to search out new ideas in the midst of a song.
Hiding behind Lightning Bolt’s wall of noise and fighting through the feedback are rhythmically complex and strangely catchy melody lines and Chippendale’s all but indecipherable and infrequent vocals that are sung through a telephone’s microphone which is held in place by a mask that he wears while performing that hides his face but makes him and his playing seem all the more crazed. Seeing Lightning Bolt live is truly a unique experience and will bring you to the heights of excitement and leave you completely exhausted but satisfied. Truly a rite of passage. Plant yourself firmly in front of the drums, hold the crowd back and prepare yourself to feel music like you have never felt before.
To try and understand what a Lightning Bolt show is really like, check out these videos: