Friday, March 11, 2016
Full-spirit wince (or: craw 2016, an invitation)
Joe McTighe and Will Scharf of craw, with the author in background. Photo: Remi Thornton
I have often called craw my favorite band. To declare something one's favorite anything is a forceful but not all that evocative statement—one that holds little meaning for anyone who isn't saying it. Yesterday, though, sitting on the floor in a rehearsal space in a dingy building behind a lumber yard in Cleveland, watching and listening to craw rehearse for their shows tonight in town at the Grog Shop and tomorrow at Brooklyn's Saint Vitus, I felt like I had a better sense of exactly what I've meant by that all these years.
We speak of being "moved" by music, or any kind of art. That is to say, we're taken somewhere. Sometimes that transport is gentle, a subtle and gradual conveyance. Other times, it's more urgent. To some degree, any heavy music is transportive—exposure to extreme volume, way beyond the cacophony of, say, an average urban commute, has a certain automatic effect. But what I realized about craw's music yesterday, as vocalist Joe McTighe howled and grimaced over writhing stop-start cadences, monumental swells and catharses, and perversely shimmying riffs, is that it is essentially unbearable. It elicits in me a kind of full-spirit wince, a masochistic thrill.
It is so harsh and unrelenting, but also so full of naked feeling and twisted insight. Their creations are fanatical, fantastical, so bizarrely outside the realm of what so much other music, even heavy music in craw's general aesthetic ballpark, would ever think to attempt. It is a private, insular art, so clearly in service, first and foremost, to its creators' obsessive vision. It doesn't care if you're listening, and yet its self-presentation is, for all its complexity, immaculate. It is a hyperarticulate shriek, so stupendously apart from the notion that music is meant to accompany anything, even, say, stereotypical metal behaviors such as headbanging or moshing. You don't do anything in its presence except for behold it, and, in my case—and I've seen this reaction in a few others—sort of tremble before it, fascination mingling with fear. That feeling is the closest thing to the sublime that I have known in art—it's the same for me now as it was 20 years ago.
And having seen the 2016 incarnation of craw up close, I can tell you that the magic is intact. I'm happy to report that this band—bands, really, since craw is performing this weekend in at least two equally brilliant but completely different lineups—can still pin you against the wall. Consider this an invitation to come experience the feeling for yourself:
Cleveland tonight (Friday, 3/11/16).
NYC tomorrow (Saturday, 3/12/16).
See you there. You can follow the weekend's progress on Facebook and Instagram.