Last Friday night, Bowery Ballroom was overtaken by a powerful smoke machine. It filled the stage and made everything a little hazy, and I’d be willing to bet that it’s just the way Caveman wanted it. As the NYC fivesome came out on stage, the lights went to their lowest settings, ratcheting up the intimacy levels to near sexy. Caveman’s music is mostly hazy and somber, with undertones of nostalgia and lost loves under power chords and beating drums that pass off as hearts. The band has the charisma of a group recently formed, and for good reason: Caveman has been playing together for not much longer than a year.
The last time we checked on Caveman, the band was playing the tiny Mercury Lounge and filling it with an undeniable energy. Here, at Bowery Ballroom, the sound carried a majestic oomph previously missing from that earlier set. While the same energy was present, if not a bit lacking from the late set time (the band came on at 11 p.m.), the songs seemed to rise above their normal homes into an almost ethereal place. It’s interesting then that the highlights of the show were the more rocking songs; that same woozy quality lent them an air of defiance, as if to say, “We can make beautiful music, but fuck if it won’t make you move too.”
The now-staple live combo of “Vampirer” and “Old Friend” shoved its face into the audience, forcing listeners to embrace the noise. It’s a technique Caveman excels at: combining the twinkle with mounds of distortion and the schizophrenic background projection to elicit a primal, almost prehistoric sense of movement within the audience. Fitting name for the band, it seems. “Decide” was another rocking highlight, especially coming off of the contemplative “Thankful.” While the latter flows like a river with no destination and rush to get there, the former smacks you in the face with a waterfall-like rush of guitars.
One thing hasn’t changed since the days of Mercury Lounge, however: The best song of the night was “Great Life,” and it’s starting to become clear that it’s the band’s favorite song to play live. Bringing out four guests to play drums, Caveman took all the energy that had been swirling around Bowery Ballroom and unleashed it in the most gorgeous way possible. This song is a motivational one, a plea for better days and carrying on. As a set closer (and one that played a role as the only encore song), the song has enough weight and catharsis to let each audience member leave with a sense of accomplishment. It’s uplifting shoegaze, looking up after so much time staring inward.