VIENNA, Va., June 29, 2012 —Music history is littered with partnerships between two musicians who unite to bring out their absolute best. John Reis and Rick Froberg probably wouldn’t be the first such duo to come to peoples’ minds, but anyone interested in post-hardcore would be wise to pay attention to them. The underground post-hardcore scene hasn’t witnessed a more prolific one-two punch than Reis and Froberg.
Hot Snakes is the third collaboration between these two talented guitarists, and the first one to reform and start touring again. Their live show at the Rock and Roll Hotel Friday was part of that reunion. It wasn’t so much a show about Hot Snakes, but a culmination of Reis’ and Froberg’s musical partnership as it’s developed and matured over the past two decades.
The sold out show at the Rock and Roll Hotel gave ample evidence supporting Hot Snakes’ relative popularity. At this point, they have much higher profile than previous Reis/Froberg projects like Pitchfork and Drive Like Jehu. This was obvious when a song like “Braintrust” materialized midway through their set, made Rock and Roll Hotel’s packed quarters seem that much more cramped as the majority of the crowd actively displayed their appreciation.
Froberg and Reis bands have always been known for their chainsaw guitars and off kilter arrangements, and that paradigm doesn’t changes with Hot Snakes. In fact, in a live setting, their energetic musical style is brought front and center. It’s like the constant, rattling rat-tat-tat of machine-gun fire as the duo pelts the audience with a hail of sonic bullets again and again. There are no moments of introspection with Hot Snakes. Their set can best be described as a constant wall of sound from start to finish.
The most noticeable thing about Hot Snakes, though, is how often this guitar work is deployed in support. On several of their songs, the drumming, for example, is more prominent than with any other instrument the band employs. It’s just not the noise level or an over application of a bass drum that makes it so. Instead, drummer Jason Kourkounis brings out some really clever and intricate patterns that are rarely experienced in rock music. Kourkounis’ unique approach doesn’t show up until about the middle of Hot Snakes’ set. But when it does, it turns the entire show on its ear and shifts the set into a different gear altogether.
Unlike previous bands of which they’ve been a part, Reis’ and Froberg’s songs don’t meander in the least. Hot Snakes blows through each song at a breakneck pace. By the time the ensemble was 45 minutes into their set, they had already performed no less than 15 songs, and were able to do this without losing their quirky and intricate nature. Hot Snakes perform with an economy of time, not wasting a single moment on any distractions that might be extracurricular to their music.
Of course their running time also had a lot to do with the band performing like they were all business. It’s expected now for bands to banter back and forth with the audience in between songs. This is as much for the band’s benefit as the crowd’s as it serves as a way for the band to keep their head in the game, so to speak. Hot Snakes clearly wanted no part of this comfortable routine last Friday, however, and they scarcely made a social networking sound between each of their songs. It’s not that they weren’t interacting with the audience. The music does that for them well enough, so they don’t really need to. After all, Reis and Froberg have been playing with each other for so long that these songs, this band, and the simple experience of playing together has become second nature to them by now. When they were up on stage, one immediately sensed a palpable comfort level among the band members—a comfort level that has to start with the band’s two experienced guitarists.
John Reis especially has been associated with so many other bands—most notably Rocket from the Crypt—that his working partnership with Rick Froberg isn’t always the first thing to come to mind. Over the years, though, the duo has reached a sort of cult status. Their blitzkrieg of a live set last Friday at the Rock and Roll Hotel is clearly further proof of just how far they’ve come to enjoy that kind of status now.
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