College Hill’s sound and obscurity signifies something
The sound reverberates off the stripped-down brick walls, a radiating pulse of throbbing noise that envelops the room at the College Hill bar. The band deconstructs the traditional verse-chorus pop song into something more tribal, hypnotic in its repetition, a looped reality without resolution or moral.
The band is Glissade (pronounced gli-‘sÃ¤d) and the venue is College Hill, a high-ceilinged hipster redoubt a block away from UNCG. College Hill was once a standard bearer in the Gate City for indie rock and punk-rooted experimentalism, but in the past few years it’s been overshadowed by a new crop of clubs.
It’s rumored that the beer bar will soon be getting a liquor license and that the management will take a more intentional approach towards booking. But for the time being, College Hill is a haven for obscure bands of unpredictable muse and patrons of a subterranean inclination who prefer to maintain a low profile on the scene.
‘“You might see a garage band one day, or something acoustic the next, or else something more rocked out,’” says Chris Wigger, Glissade’s bass player. ‘“It’s definitely our favorite place to play. There’s a lot of wood in here and tile. It has good acoustics.’”
Glissade are five men between the ages of 28 and 30 who met at UNCG, drifted away after graduation and converged again to play music together, although some of them now live in Chapel Hill, Durham and Charlotte.
Their brand of psychedelic music ‘— a genre now close to 40 years old and rooted in the art experimentalism of Pink Floyd in 1960s London and the San Francisco acid folk music of the Jefferson Airplane and other bands ‘— is not strongly staked in the independent rock scene of the North Carolina Piedmont. But it’s not for lack of commitment on the part of its proponents.
The men of Glissade make no effort to hide their debt to the British band Spiritualized and its earlier incarnation, Spaceman 3. Both bands have heavily explored pharmacological themes, judging by their song titles. It’s spacy music that has been disparaged as ‘shoe-gazer rock.’
‘“It takes two years for Spiritualized, or a good psychedelic band, to come around,’” Wigger says, ‘“so we thought, why not just do it?’”
For the moment at least, Glissade is allied with a Triangle-area band called Polynya in the band’s effort to advance their psychedelic vision. Polynya is opening for Glissade this night, July 22, at College Hill. The two bands recently played together at the Cave in Chapel Hill and will play together again at another Chapel Hill venue called the Library. Polynya plays a much more structured kind of music with catchy vocals and Byrd-like descending scale guitar solos. A woman named Amelia V. Burch Shull, who simultaneously plays drums and sings, possesses a rock instinct that tilts Polynya’s sound a little towards the British mod movement of bands like the Jam.
During Polynya’s set the barstools and booths are full, but the floor ‘— a thoroughfare wide enough to accommodate one or two dancers ‘— remains empty. With the band blocking the front door, the bar’s patrons are forced to come in through the poolroom in the back. The scene is perfectly framed such that all of about 30-plus patrons ‘— variously drinking, negotiating romantic trysts, prospecting hip sounds or patiently waiting for the next band ‘—self consciously take their places in the mise-en-scÃ¨ne.
Some of the pool crowd gravitates towards the front for Glissade’s set. Perhaps they enjoy a hometown advantage by virtue of having two members who live in the Gate City.
Like a hovering spacecraft or a hyperventilating beast ‘— it’s hard to tell which ‘— Glissade’s sound radiates in non-linear fashion as the five men assault their instruments with an unwavering focus that seems to make time stretch into a dream. The songs usually start out with a chiming introduction and evolve into a taut rhythmic barrage, building into a propulsive, undulating rhythm. Unlike Polynya, Glissade’s music is almost all instrumental.
‘“We let our notes speak for themselves,’” says one of the band’s guitarists, Adam Waldron, who once worked in TV advertising. ‘“We’re not good lyricists. I’m no Robert Frost.’”
The keyboard player, Rob Hedlund, sometimes growls into his mic, creating a wave effect. Or else he taps it, in mesmerizing rhythm with the guitars and bass. He tinkers like a scientist, seeking the right frequency.
A longhair pops into the front room fresh from a game of pool and yells: ‘“Turn it up.’”
The music pulsates faster and faster, and then the band just stops. During Glissade’s set, a writerly fellow who also has long hair and who wears heavy black-rimmed glasses, darts in and out of the bar. He says he likes the band, but is distracted by a woman.
When the last note is played, the writer’s standing at the end of the bar.
‘“Well done,’” he shouts. ‘“One more. That sounded dramatic.’” Then, inexplicably, he informs the reporter next to him: ‘“The Germans were great in rocketry. I love the Germans.’”
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