Five quick thoughts on KEN mode's show Sunday at Kobo:
(1) Outside Kobo, The Black Antler drummer Alex Weinhardt recommended I wear some earplugs because the first time he saw KEN mode at this venue, they played so loudly that the walls literally shook. The Winnipeg trio was indeed obscenely loud, but it never seemed exceptionally painful, just powerful. Maybe I'm jaded (or partially deaf) after that Swans show though.
(2) That said, there was definitely pain in the music. In my preview, I remarked on the captivating turmoil apparent in frontman Jesse Matthewson's cries of "No! I'm in control!" That desperation came through loud and clear Sunday, and not only in lyrics like the forebodingly whispered "Religion is a cancer." Musically, it was a relentless churning akin to industrial machinery or the most profound stomach flu.
(3) KEN mode must be seen to be fully appreciated, though. Oh my God must they be seen. Rather, they must see you. Matthewson's eyes are seething anger-orbs — electrifying, unnerving and unwavering in their commitment to freak out and/or burn holes in his audience. The band name is a reference to the stage-stalking fury Henry Rollins used to whip himself into during Black Flag shows, a take-no-prisoners approach Rollins described as "Kill Everyone Now" mode. Matthewson more than earned that name Sunday. He is a mad man: a spitter, a microphone-licker, a serpentine tongue-stabber. He is Woody Harrelson possessed by Trent Reznor. He is Jesse Pinkman possessed by Walter White.
(4) Matthewson's crazy-person visage is so entrancing that it's possible to miss all the physical feats inherent in a KEN mode show, from bassist Andrew LaCour playing complicated riffs with his instrument lifted fully above his head to Matthewson kicking out lead guitar lines and lead vocals at the same damn time. As for the drummer, Matthewson's brother Shane, his parts mostly receded into the background, which is usually a good sign for a drummer. KEN mode never missed beat, and every song hit with a heft that can only come from expert battery.
(5) This was my first proper concert experience at the newly remodeled Kobo. It's definitely a step up from the claustrophobic setup of yore, and the sound was wildly improved. Nice work, Ko-bros.