Santos Party House, New York, 19th March
A year on from the infamous SXSW performance that started the backlash against them, [a]Salem[/a] are playing this downtown New York venue owned by party enthusiast [a]Andrew WK[/a]. Things do not get off to an auspicious start – the support act, [b]Shams[/b], is the very worst kind of lank-haired, dead-eyed no-mark, shouting over pathetic beats. By the time [a]Salem[/a] start filling the venue with dry ice there’s nearly as many people filling the fringes of the stage as in the crowd, all preening away and taking photos of each other with their iPhones. Despite this, though, [a]Salem[/a] give it their best shot. They begin with the title track of last year’s [b]‘King Night’[/b] album, which, with all the smoke and flashing lights and enthusiasm unleashed after the epic wait, sounds sumptuous and grandiose. It appears that [a]Salem[/a] have gone to ground and focused on the weird, dark core of their sound. There’s something stranger about their presence, too, with John dressed in white robes and Heather in black. When the latter sings on the downward spiral of [b]‘Redlights’[/b], she becomes just another texture, entirely inhuman.
This is something that [a]Salem[/a] should be aware of – this deeply odd boiling pot of low industrial, spectral gothic and bits borrowed off hip-hop, actually feels rather fragile. There’s something to it that suggests that those who made it are not entirely sure how to move from the introspection of their deep friendships that shaped [b]‘King Night’[/b], and into a bigger world. Tonight’s performance is certainly flawed, some tracks misfiring, the crowd almost wilfully uninterested. Yet there’s still a kernel of something rather beautiful here: to condemn [a]Salem[/a] to the flames of being yet another last year’s thing would be a cruel verdict indeed.