The Philadelphia band Nothing are rapid revitalizers of what shoegaze can both look, feel and sound like. They enter stages with the energy of a hundred Kevin Shields and make distortion workouts feel like limber punk rock anthems. And they are bleak like the most Swedish dark metal, it’s even in the name: what’s more nihilistic than nothing? On one of the last dates of their tour for their third full-length record Dance on the Blacktop, the back of the stage reads: “Our World Is Nothing” in the thin letters of a totalitarian state. The face of frontman Domenic Palermo is hiding underneath a fishing hat or maybe something you would wear in the rain. He looks like maybe a sea caption. After some lulling minutes of ominous radio noises, they rip right into “Zero Day,” Blacktop’s opening track. The new stuff has the kind of gung-ho energy that once lent bite to Billy Corgan’s early walls of sound and bassist Aaron Heard really takes front stage with this material and refuses to let it sit still.
Nothing are both historians and trailblazers. Opening that evening was the Boston band Swirlies, once descried by former Pitchfork writer Chris Ott as “a hundred times more emotionally honest and musically inventive” than the Flaming Lips. They were glad to be there, a sloppy, glorious mess developed by men unironically in turtlenecks, it’s really just getting kind of chilly now. I was more moved by Nothing’s decision to include them on tour, an action that felt like a debt paid toward the constantly forgotten past. Nothing were less nostalgic about their own past; performances of their own earlier work felt frantic, eager to be done with.
There is probably a warbly, fuzzy line that connects Nothing to that other metal-dressed shoegaze band whose determined prog-ness will most likely land its latest record a few notches above Dance on the Blacktop on the year-end lists. But Nothing is both the band you will probably actually hear playing at a bar in the Lower East Side and the band’s whose logo you will probably see on the ski-cap of that new guy your sister’s dating. There are people here eagerly holding masks the band has given out and there are people here with sweatshirts spattered with the band’s insignia. Their music has an anxious, communal energy and it can be felt pulling this crowd together like a basement punk show. The world may be nothing but that suits this world just fine.