This was not a show for fans who yearn to interact with a frontman.
Monday night, Cleveland hosted a celebration of deep, dark and demented electronics. The pairing of solo noise-maker Ian Dominick Fernow (aka Prurient) with the duo behind Godflesh took a complimentary cross-section from the region’s metal, experimental and underground techno scenes into the intimate setting of HoB’s Cambridge Room. This move from the larger main room only intensified the connection between longtime fans and the influential industrial outfit, placing the most hardcore fanatics only inches from the strings and pedals of Justin Broadrick and G. C. Green.
In a room whose capacity was just over 200, the thematic brutality of Fernow was nearly too much. The Prurient set lasted less than 50 minutes; Fernow used the second half to puncture brainwaves with aggressively distorted machine endeavors. Amplifying his approach behind the synthesizers, this artistic flailing both compounded the set’s dissonance and added a raucous human element to the computer-generated noise. Whereas the low-end pulse of Godflesh leaves some room for casual conversation near the rear of a venue, Fernow’s approach demands a decent set of earplugs for extended listening sessions.
Prurient’s onstage hysteria stands in great contrast to Godflesh. Even with a handful of fanatics continuing to yell “Hymns” thought-out the 75-minute set, the duo rarely engaged with the impassioned crowd. Spending a large portion of their adult years writing and performing these viscerally charged arrangements, Broadrick and Green attacked this music with a profoundly stoic demeanor. Green is especially stiff when working through the bass motifs, his body nearly motionless as his fingers rip through the fretboard.
This was not a show for fans who yearn to interact with a frontman; the Godflesh experience is for audiences who behave as if they were at an art gallery or the ballet. Granted, the performers dress in tee shirts and jeans, electronics piping from a MacBook while supporters put down copious amounts of domestic beer. It may seem odd to peg a live Godflesh set as high art, but it is just that. Countless artists have been influenced by the volatility of “Like Rats,” which closed out the set, but Broadrick has never kowtowed to artistic norms or practices, and a Godflesh show evokes moments of authentic introspection; all of this without uttering more than a handful of intelligible syllables. Just as a painting does not change to humor its audience, Godflesh does not bend to satisfy the metal or experimental music market.
The duo never officially supported Hymns in the U. S., so heightened calls for it from the room’s most uproarious fans unexpectedly fazed Broadrick. While neither he nor Green made eye contact with this crew, Broadrick spent a considerable amount of time staring down at his laptop before clutching at his custom eight-string guitar and momentarily departing the stage with Green. Landing just about halfway through the set, it is difficult to determine if these shouts drove the pair from the stage, but they surely struck a nerve.
The boisterous energy of the audience more than made up for the lack of overall bodies. The majority of those who were in the crowd sported decades-old merch, and they will likely be rocking the same faded shirt if Godflesh ever makes a return visit to the equally bleak surroundings of America’s rust belt.