How much volume or rhythmic intensity does it take to get a crowd moving? It’s a tough question—all crowds are different and dependent on a nearly infinite amount of constantly changing variables—but last night’s Bleached show at the Bowery Ballroom was a case study in subdued chaos. On record, specifically on its full-length, the surf-rock meets pop-punk amalgamation Ride Your Heart, Bleached is hardly the type of band that sounds like it would inspire a violent mosh pit. There’s a recklessness to the music, sure, but it’s of the gentle pogo-ing variety, more of a playful shove than a head-butt. And yet, there I was last night, watching as a small cluster of fans slammed into each other with obvious glee.
Opening with “Waiting By The Telephone,” the band quickly established its key themes: longing, yearning and desire. These are classic pop tropes, but sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin invest them with a peevish quality, cutting the lovey-dovey head-in-the-clouds stuff with a dollop of sarcasm and a maniacal energy. Like the Ramones or the Misfits, there’s a slightly cartoonish aspect to their broad emotions, but there’s a touch of earnest Slumberland-ready pop here as well. Songs like “Next Stop” and “Love Spells” conjured a fiery, combustible energy that perfectly walked that line, never tipping too far in one direction.
At the same time, it was startling when the band tried to do anything even slightly removed from its sugar-pop blitzkrieg wheelhouse. One song that started with only bass and drums was a momentary aberration and a cause for concern: Where’d the guitars go? Where are the hooks? They quickly reappeared, turning the song into yet another Pixy Stix to the head, but you could tell the crowd was nervous for a second. Worry not, people-pushers: Bleached is all business.
That’s not to say the band doesn’t have a sense of humor. There were cat jokes (“What do you get when you have a pile of kittens? A Meow-tain!”), and there were weed allusions (“I liked that I smelled pot during that song… That’s our weed song.”). At one point they invited Isabel Ibsen of New York sludge-throwers Hunters (who played a captivating opening set) to sing along to a cover. It was perhaps the moment when the show came alive the most, Ibsen and Jennifer singing not so much for the audience but for each other. They looked less like performers and more like the frenzied people in the audience: free to move around and free to destroy.