Concert review: O'Brother

VIENNA, Va., June 4, 2012 –O’Brother inspires a loyal following among the growing number of people who have heard them to this point. They are still growing this avid following either by opening up for lager acts or by playing smaller clubs where audiences can more easily get acquainted with them. Their most recent schedule of dates on Thrice’s farewell tour might be their largest tour to date, and their fan base is sure to increase with every date on this tour.

Before their opening set at the Howard Theater Wednesday night, the majority of the crowd wasn’t altogether familiar with O’Brother. But the few there who were created early rumblings of excitement that built up the anticipation before the band launched its set.

There’s something rather sinister about O’Brother’s sound. They incorporate elements of sludge metal that predate the Seattle’s grunge sound, mixing these elements with a post-hardcore sound. All of is layered on top of an ever-present bass line that keeps up a constant droning backdrop. This subterranean undercurrent helps create a steady, unsettling feeling throughout their entire set.

This description may sound somewhat off-putting, or, at the very least, unappetizing for potential listeners. But it’s precisely that kind of unsettling nature that the band is all about.  Their sound very much equates to the kind of subtle dread that’s found in psychological horror movies. The songs in their set have tendency to build and build to point where they become darker and more about atmosphere, often devolving into ambient noise in the process.

It might seem that the longer O’Brother plays, the greater the chance they have of losing the structure of their songs. But that’s a part of the progression of their live show. It’s all about the psychological attack they put the audience through. The longer each song goes on, the more it encases the audience in an impenetrable void where anyone listening to them can easily become lost until the song is over.

Lead singer Tanner Merrit’s vocals add  a moody intensity to this effect. His voice possesses a subtle quality of quivering uneasiness that fits in perfectly with the band’s increasingly thick-textured sound. There’s nothing notably dark about his voice, but it can become light and airy to point where the more he repeats certain phrases, the more hypnotic he becomes.

It’s that feeling of repetitious progression that enables them to continue a song for six to seven minutes and not have the audience realize what’s actually happening. There are plenty of bands—mainly metal bands—classified as “dark.” But that description often refers to a predominance of thick and heavy riffs through which a given band simply bludgeons everyone in the audience to death. 

This is the exact opposite of what O’Brother does. Instead of beating the audience with their power, they build up the intensity and casually slide the audience mood into a sense of actual foreboding. This process takes time and patience on O’Brother part. As a consequence, there’s nothing quick about the band, as they take their time to weave through their set. But ultimately, it’s worth the wait, allowing the audience to let the darkness just seep in and take over.

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener. Read more of his work in Riffs at the Washington Times Communities.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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