Relishing the disorienting ecstasy of a Constant Lovers concert
When they play live, Constant Lovers operate in one of two modes: overdrive and over-overdrive. Watching a band as skilled as this motley quartet radiate such a dangerous degree of mania is a rare thrill. In early March, the curtain parted for their headlining set on opening night of the new Chop Suey and the band was already pushing into the red. From there things only got heavier.
Not all at once; the four independent pieces that comprise Constant Lovers each vibrated at its own frequency, like a hot rod engineered from bulldozer parts. Center-stage with a guitar, lead singer Joel Cuplin was the obvious eyeball magnet, reedy, waifish and longhaired. He shout-sang with a guttural yowl into a bouquet of fresh flowers sheathing his microphone.
Behind him, Ben Verellen towered over his drums. Verellen’s best known as a heavy-metal guitarist but with Constant Lovers he was a fearsomely physical drummer, throwing his arms overhead and smashing down on his kit like that guy on the Roman warship in Ben-Hur who kept the slave rowers aligned in heart-attack rhythm. Since joining Constant Lovers for last year’s excellent Experience Feelings album, he’s become one of their main selling points.
Playing bass in a tweedy suit, bowler hat and eyeglasses, Gavin Tull-Esterbrook looked like he wandered on-stage from a band of 1930s Ivy League faculty. His steady low-end balanced the music’s whiplash changes. Across the stage, lead guitarist Eric Fisher was stone-faced all night, a regular guy armed with exceptional talent. Fisher has been around the Seattle music scene since the early ’00s, playing guitar, producing and being an all-around creative inspiration. Constant Lovers is a miraculous application of his skills.
The band built teetering momentum. By midnight everyone in the club had been drinking for hours and lubrication eased the crowd into the music’s staggered, unpredictable pace. Some songs were new, previewing the band’s next album reportedly coming in the fall, but mostly came from Experience Feelings, with names like “Snickerdoodles” and “Mush Teeth.”
Part of Constant Lovers’ appeal is their sense of humor, not ironic or slapstick but strange and surreal. Nuance was easy to miss given the band’s eardrum-searing volume, but the music’s layers came only from live instrumentation, no droning keys or added effects. The occasional melody rose up from the tempo changes and Cuplin’s yelling and controlled chaos, and each time it registered, felt like a tiny discovery.
By the last song of their 40-minute set, Cuplin was shirtless and burying his face into the microphone bouquet, tearing out blooms with his teeth. Then he pulled the mike out of its stand to thrash around the stage, the music pushing the air around him deep into the back of the room while the crowd surged toward the stage, sucking up all the frenzy of the moment.