Lightning Bolt review – noise-punk duo remain one of the great live acts

by 

Underworld, London
Still triumphantly unhinged after 25 years, the US duo break all the rules of what punk and, indeed, live music should be

ightning Bolt invert the laws of gig physics. The bass-and-drums duo always play on the floor of the venue, an egalitarian gesture that nevertheless creates its own hierarchies: the tall or fearless get the best view. Drummer Brian Chippendale wears his trademark patchwork balaclava complete with mic inside, a phantasmagoric item in shades of red – in snatched sightings between the heaving crowd he looks like a burns victim glimpsed in an emergency unit.

The noise they whip up invites instant moshpit pandaemonium, but with the US duo right next to the crowd and in danger of having a foot put through their gear, the slam-dancers have to almost imperceptibly hold themselves back. This is a beautiful sight, like birds beating their wings back to slow down as they land. One sweaty man keeps his fur-lined parka on for extra buffering. Chippendale gestures at the back of the venue: “That’s the promised land. If you’re coming forwards, go backwards. If you’re going backwards, also go backwards.”

The music also doesn’t follow the rules, beating various styles – hardcore punk, thrash metal, noise, glam rock, grunge, free improv, even a kind of ambient blues – into a rough, slippery emulsion. Chippendale sits in a lineage with the likes of Greg Fox and Zach Hill, hyper-skilled punk drummers informed by jazz; his flurries of sound are kept aloft by with insistent toms. The equally brilliant bassist Brian Gibson wrings a outrageously wide range of raunchy sound from his instrument, at one point simultaneously playing big down chords and Van Halen-style high-pitched widdling. After 25 years in the game, they remain one of the world’s greatest live bands.