Sensory Overload: Punk trio Checkmate keeps it short and not-so-sweet at Ace of Cups

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From the May 22, 2014 edition

While Checkmate’s name might conjure images of a deliberately unfolding chess match, opponents carefully weighing each move before acting, the local punk trio’s music instead lunged forward with all the delicacy of a marauding army.

Songs were typically short and brutal, built around thick, rubbery basslines, frantic drums and terse, tense guitars as tightly wound as the most type A of personalities. Singer/guitarist Leslie Marquez, whose glasses gave her a girl-next-door vibe even as her ferocious playing suggested she were more likely to egg your house, added vocal yelps to the din, though few words were discernible amid the outpouring of noise.

“When a tree falls in the forest,” she barked on “Silenced” — one of the only songs where her shouts could be successfully decoded. “It makes no sound!”

In the outburst that followed, the three mates locked together, laying down a squall that, fittingly, echoed a chainsaw taken to a towering oak.

Kyle Bergamo, he of the asymmetrical punk ’do, anchored most songs with rumbling, foundations-rattling bass, while drummer Robin Murray, who also minds the kit for local noisemakers Tastes Kinda Like Sad, bashed away at his drums with a carefree swagger reflected in everything from his playing (loose, scruffy) to his appearance (cut-off shorts, T-shirt and unkempt hair). On “Defeated As Is,” a 90-second blast of hardcore riffage, Murray hunched over his kit and hammered away with a fury that suggested he was working out some deeper, inner-aggression.

Though much of the trio’s set was defined by this relentless momentum, with the entire set clocking in right around 15 minutes, there were moments the three wisely pulled back, allowing the songs to breath ever so slightly (the momentary respite midway through “Silenced,” the fast-faster tempo shifts of alliteratively titled cuts like “Nose Knows” and “Pushing Pawns”).

Between songs, however, the confidence the musicians displayed while performing appeared to wash away, and they filled these (thankfully) brief interludes nervously sipping tallboys and chatting awkwardly among themselves.

Contrast this with the way the players attacked songs like “Rainbow Brite,” a hardcore burst as far removed from its chipper, childhood-evoking title as possible. Here Marquez laid down a flurry of crunchy, crashing riffs that caused two burly dudes in the pit (though considering the smallish early crowd it could have been described as more of a pothole) to charge back and forth like bulls, appropriately mimicking Checkmate’s stampeding scrawl.