In the midst of one bar brawler of a tune, Sleep Fleet singer Corey Montgomery howled, “I’m happy alone” as guitars and drums thundered along restlessly together. Yet little about the quartet’s performance at 4th St. Bar & Grill on a recent Thursday suggested contentment.
Instead, the sentiments in the band’s songs projected an ongoing sense of turmoil, with Montgomery, who sang as though he had wolverine blood coursing through his veins, making allusion to unrequited crushes (“Why don’t you want me/When I want you?”) and an overriding sense of unshakeable discontent (“I don’t want to be here/I don’t want to stay here”).
The music itself sounded similarly unsettled, built on swirling tornados of guitar and forceful drums courtesy of Indigo Wild’s Jason Winner, who ably stepped in for the band’s usual drummer. Prior to taking the stage, Winner locked his kick drum in place with a cinder block, and it kept his kit anchored as he walloped away, like a boxer pinning his opponent helplessly in the corner. It’s a look that would have been even more fitting during the band’s performance at the Mr. Fahrenheit & the Loverboys Fest in Franklinton earlier this summer, where the crew, then operating at full strength, bashed through a cathartic 20-minute set while confined to an industrial alleyway.
Though fully capable of cranking the volume, the musicians refused to forego dynamics, and there were a number of times the four pulled back for dreamier passages that doubled as musical cease-fires of sorts. “Boat Song,” for one, navigated multiple ports, journeying from placid, calm waters to choppy open seas that pitched and rolled violently. A new, untitled song bridged these divides, pairing a scruffy, garage-punk onslaught with comparatively melodic vocals, Montgomery sanding down his usual roar.
The frontman opened the set with his shoulder-length locks pinned back in a tight ponytail, but as the songs progressively grew more primal he let his hair down so his appearance matched the crew’s unhinged output. At times, it appeared almost too much for him to take. “My heart again,” he bellowed on one sonically heavy tune, scraping out a flurry of riffs seemingly aimed at jumpstarting the battered organ. Then it was right back into the fray.