:Retrowerks: Ego Likeness, Servitor, Surviving the Odyssey – December 6, 2013 – Pittsburgh, PA
Review by Maresa Whitehead
It is a dark and snowy night. The pelting, wet snow begins at rush hour and comes quickly, slicking roads in the near-freezing temperatures. A car stops at the top of a steep downgrade on an unsalted back road, and just as you question why, you see its tires slide two feet towards the shoulder. It’s then that you thank your best friend for picking you up in his traction-controlled SUV. You might not have made it to the show otherwise.
Of course, nothing would have stopped you from trying. It is the last Distortion Productions show of 2013, and Ego fucking Likeness is slated to headline. And you’ve heard of this Servitor, having been told the project’s tribal industrial blend is right up your alley. You remember seeing Sean tour with iVardensphere, and you don’t want to miss counting how many different drums he uses and hearing the way they will echo in Pittsburgh’s long, narrow 31st Street Pub.
There aren’t many people when you arrive. You’re early, but you can’t help but wonder who in their right mind would drive on those icy white roads (because, you know, you’re not necessarily in your right mind, but you also weren’t the one driving). A few people trickle in, but when Surviving the Odyssey takes the stage to start the night’s musical explorations, you’re one of only three people right up front showing your support.
The Pittsburgh electro-industrial ambient group features a guitarist and synth player. Their basic stage setup is bolstered by a projector which flashes video on the back wall during their set. Unfortunately, the video is small and there is no screen, so you can still read the painted letters of the pub’s name through the images of landscapes flying by, zoo animals, static, and abstract morphings.
Surviving the Odyssey has everything you expect from an electro-industrial artist—samples, distorted guitar work, and bouncy beats. Each vocal-less melody is introduced with its title and/or that of the album from which it was taken, making it easy for you to follow-up on any track which strikes your fancy. However, you find a lack of musical balance between the synths and guitar. It is difficult to hear the electronic work beneath the loud, fuzzy guitar, and you cannot differentiate between the individual notes of the guitar due to the distortion effect used. You can tell the synth and drum work is polished, but the sometimes off-key guitar makes it hard to get into. You’re thankful when, near the end of the set, the guitar becomes less distorted and the delay is turned up as it is plucked slowly, becoming ethereal. This is where Surviving the Odyssey attains its musical balance. You bob your head, applaud, and yell your encouragement, because this band has a solid foundation, but they’re not quite there yet.
During your cigarette break before the next band, you notice more bodies in attendance. You mill about, chatting with friends, but it is hard for you to focus as you anticipate Servitor’s set. The feathers in Sean’s hair bob in the corner of your vision as you examine his setup of drums scattered onstage. These, you think, are the original Native Instruments.
When Servitor’s powerful pounding reverberates through your skeleton, you can’t help but dance. It makes you feel something primal within as Sean’s live, inexhaustible drumming performs a call and response with the recorded drums backing him. You adore the dark, bass-y ambience and humming, chanting voices on the backing track, and you can’t help but wish you could build a fire and dance around it, calling out to the spirits yourself. You enjoy the mix of traditional and irregular beats, and you’re stunned by the sheer magnitude of the talent and practice each track embodies. You wonder whether Sean is in a trance himself to drum like that, seamlessly switching between several different drums, each with its own tone. You wish you knew the names of them. It surprises you, yet it does not, when Sean pulls out a tambourine, and you’ve never seen anyone master the triangle like him. You certainly weren’t taught that in kindergarten music class! Sean himself belts out tribal yells throughout the set, and it ends with his steady beating of a single large drum as he chants in an other-worldly native language. You absolutely must have a CD, as Servitor has awakened something by rattling your spiritual bones.
As you turn from the stage to make small talk between sets again, you are surprised, yet enormously pleased, by the number of people in the audience. These acts deserve the support. It seems the snow has slowed outside, and many people wisely took their time traveling so that they would arrive intact. A larger crowd than you initially anticipated is in place for Ego Likeness, but you push your way to the very front as soon as Donna, Steven, Rick, and Mike take the stage. The set begins with a slower, sultry song, allowing the becorseted Donna to flirt with the audience. She smiles with her eyes and sways her hips as her strong, womanly voice belts out lyrics, though her vocals are sometimes lost behind the depth of the music. You also notice the high-pitched, ear-splitting mic feedback, but Donna handles it without a second thought each time it trills.
You can tell Ego Likeness feels at home onstage in Pittsburgh where they have many friends in attendance. Donna is sure to make eye contact with each audience member, making the set personal to everyone. Steven’s blue and black mohawk dreads fly as he headbangs and bounces around with his guitar. Jokes fly between songs, and the duo doesn’t back down from self-effacing humor as they make fun of the fact that it seems the music in all of their new tracks cuts off one measure before the vocals do. You sip the brandy-laced hot chocolate your friend shares with you and giggle at the funny faces and easy interplay between everyone onstage. You are pleased with the debut of a song off of the band’s forthcoming album, and you dance and sing with everyone around you as the set closes with Ego Likeness’s hit “Save Your Serpent.”
But, of course, this is Pittsburgh, home to Jim Semonik, mastermind behind Metropolis Records’ Electronic Saviors compilations. Donna announces an encore song and asks the Distortion Productions ringleader to come to the front. He steps beside you, grinning, and Ego Likeness launches into “Infidel,” their track featured on Electronic Saviors Volume II: Recurrence. Steven somehow manages to remove Jim’s hat with his teeth as he fingers his guitar, and Donna completes the song wearing it proudly. She quips that the night has become “Ego Likeness ft. Jim’s hat,” and you are joined in laughter by everyone in the room.
It has been a wonderful evening. You are exhausted and sweaty from dancing, but you cannot stop grinning. You’re sad that there will be no more shows until spring, but you know that this night will hold you over until then. You hug your friends and wish them safe travels before heading out into the brisk winter night, and Servitor serves as the soundtrack for your drowsy ride home, where you fall asleep with drums and dances determining your dreams.
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