“Can we turn down the lights?” Possibly the only non-song-title words spoken by Iceage lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt on Saturday night at Bowery Ballroom, these six words served both to create ambience and to piss off those fans who happened to be caught near a photographer’s flash. “Four young (white) dudes form a punk band” may be a time-worn cliché, but Iceage wears its past lives well. The whirling dervish of human contempt at the center of the storm is Rønnenfelt, kicking amps and front row attendees’ heads as if they were rocks on his walk home from high school. This is a young band with a relentless appetite for anger, yet they’ve managed to channel that into a feast of forceful power chords, hammering drums and an underlying bass heartbeat from Jakob Tvilling Pless that would steal the show in any normal configuration.
It was all overshadowed, for better or worse, by the anti-charisma demonstrated by Rønnenfelt. His apathy and antipathy for his audience was so aggressively put-on and exaggerated that one can’t help but believe it. While alcohol may have been a part of his disregard for the 500+ people in attendance, even a stone-cold sober sociopath still is a sociopath. With no words between sets aside from a “fuck you, this is our song title” introduction to every part of the set, there was little time to catch your breath and question the art in front of you. Instead, like on both of its stellar records, Iceage worked to demolish you, bit by bit, until your heart was on fire and your energy evolved into something more exhilarating: rage.
That’s not to say that the crowd was as blatantly against each other as Rønnenfelt was; instead, that rage turned into passion, as fans ping-ponged off each other like so many molecules in a given space. (Quick aside: There may have been actual rage for the woman trying to hold up a banner throughout the show. Someone finally grabbed it and told her, in more explicit terms, to put it away.) It was a joyful pit, but that joy stemmed from a dark place, one that Iceage resides (and possibly vacations) in. “You’re nothing!” they screamed. “You’re blessed,” they yelled through hoarse throats. Those two things are not in opposites; in the minds of these four Danes, you can’t truly have one without the other.
A different kind of energy was on display immediately beforehand, as Canada’s White Lung burned through any disconnect before them. No opener disappointment was found here, as the band blistered through its catalog with an ease that revealed its experience; having formed in 2006, this is a band that has grown together and discovered the extremes of both its talent and its intent. Singer Mish Way cut a most attention-grabbing figure, headbanging her blonde hair in every degree of the circle, stomps accentuating a pop sensibility that even she tries to fight against (a very sardonic “this is our attempt at a pop song” prefaced one of the night’s highlights). But make no doubt about it: Behind the admittedly punk-rock edge that White Lung exudes, there’s a melodic core that slices through the air like katanas. Lean into it, because the blood you cough up might just be worth it.