Something rare happened in Brooklyn last Friday. Almost immediately after the announcement of their new record, The L-Shaped Man, and the subsequent release of the double video for the album’s first two tracks, Ceremony announced they would be playing a last-minute, “surprise” show at Kinfolk 94 in Williamsburg. It would be free, and they would be playing the majority of the new record; doors at 6:45pm, over by eight. I arrived at 6pm on the nose, under the impression there might be one or two other idiots standing in the not-quite-warm weather and feeling similarly anxious about getting into the show. But there was already a line extending halfway down the block.
After an interminably anxious wait, the doors finally opened to the space — a cool attachment to a Williamsburg clothing store, complete with bar and PA and performance spot, though certainly lacking the warmth of the DIY venue. Everything looked concrete and wood, but not like the wood that you find people’s names and obscenities carved into. It was nice wood. I b-lined to the bar to get what I knew would be my only beer, and then quickly got up front, where the venue was projecting the new album’s cover art (the one that some are saying was ripped from an episode of The Simpsons), against a blank white-painted brick wall (with the ever-important #kinfolklife underneath).
Ceremony’s approach to every new record has been to change their sound entirely from what came before, and the two tracks in the video they released are wholly post-punk in a beautiful and contrasting hard-left from everything they’ve done prior. A lot of fans take issue with this, longing for the glorious outlets of aggression from Violence Violence, but it didn’t matter here.
Appearing quickly and quietly entering, all we heard from the band was Ross Farrar brightly say, “Hello everyone!” before they immediately entered into the piano-like introduction of “The Separation”, the first song off the record. From here, the crowd’s energy was intent, if not intensive; eager to hear what was to come, while the band’s energy was heightened, if anything. There was a connective heat radiating from member to member in the playing of these songs, guitarists Anthony Anzaldo and Andy Nelson emphatically twirling and bopping and thrusting to the sounds of their own tunes—Nelson even forcefully launching himself off the back ledge from time to time—almost powering the inertia of Justin Davis’ Bass and Jake Casarotti’s steady drumming, all while frontman Farrar stood steadfast, almost pained, in the middle of it all.
It was like a listening party, only played live. Most of what we heard was pretty, a continuation of the forlorn post-punk sound previewed in the record announcement. Surfy at times, droning beauty at others, weirdly agitated in rhythm, but grounded in the newfound tonal depth of Farrar’s vocals. The songs, for the most part, are rhythmically upbeat, melodically soothing, if not powerful in their subtleties. The performance itself, what we saw, was all the more introspective into the creation of a deeply personal record. The songs are less focused on ferocious strumming, which creates an entirely new energy among the players, as though it gives their minds more time, or more of a chance to get into their own music. “Thank you everyone for coming,”Farrar told the crowd, the one time he spoke at length between songs. These are all songs form The L-Shaped Man, of course. We spent a lot of time on this record, three years. And it was very hard. And very… it was very hard. I love you all. Thank you for coming.”
The closing parenthetical of songs played from The L-Shaped Man was “The Understanding” the second song from the record, and the second song in the double-video. Farrar stood stoic, eyes closed, almost holding his gut, keeping his insides from falling completely out. The set could have ended here, and an awe-struck audience would have left feeling hollowed and almost catatonic from the virtual diary-entry they just witnessed, but Ceremony, lovers of their crowd as they are, went immediately into Rohnert Park fan-favorite, “The Doldrums”, followed by Zoo’s “Citizen”, and finished with a wild incantation of “Sick”. That previously mentioned “minimal budging” business was thrown right out the door when they played “Sick”, as the floor, congested to what seemed like capacity, cleared almost entirely in seconds, for a tremendously raucous pit. Jackets were thrown, fists were raised, voices were lost (well, at least mine was), and the sweat only just started to roll before the final words, “Sick of mankind,” were howled, and it was over.
We all applauded them for the set, for staying a band, for writing these new songs and sharing them with us, and then for throwing us the satisfactory bone of a classic. Everyone filed out, slowly, and as I was putting on the coat which I had flung to the front of the stage-area, it occurred to me the genius behind such a wavering sound, and such a diverse catalog of music: the live show. These songs are going to be played disjointedly, not in succession, building the tensions and anticipation between songs, with the audience not knowing what comes next, going nuts when a song like “Sick” is played, and experiencing something wholly different, and all the more meaningful and reflective during songs like “The Separation”. A crowd needn’t be in complete upheaval for a punk band to have played a good show. The energy is still there with bands like Ceremony.
The L-Shaped Man is out May 19 on Matador Records.