Angels of Light | Review | Live at the Bowery BallroomThe Sound of Old Wounds That Can Never Quite Heal It was dirge night at the Bowery Ballroom on Thursday, when the Angels of Light and Calla shared a bill. Tempos were slow and deliberate; instruments droned and tolled. Yet the bands were as dissimilar as landscape paintings and still lifes, as the Angels of Light let their music expand panoramically, while Calla kept its songs tightly contained.
The Angels of Light are led by Michael Gira, who from 1982 to 1997 was the songwriter, guitarist and singer of the Swans. Over those 15 years, that group's music gradually evolved from brutal noise-rock to somber, ritualistic drones. With the Angels of Light, he carries his obsessions into a seemingly calmer domain, where shock and heartbreak have melted into resignation.
Mr. Gira played a few songs from the Angels of Light album "How I Loved You" (Young God) and affably introduced some equally bleak new material. He strummed an echoing acoustic guitar and sang in a dry, stoic voice, intoning lyrics like "Suck the hatred from my mouth/Raise the dead man that you found." The other three band members layered the songs with simulated vibraphone and piano, muffled drumbeats and touches like hammer dulcimer, melodica or Dana Schecter's airy, wordless vocals.
As the songs methodically circled through two or three chords, long instrumental stretches unfolded like pastorales, with glimmering passages of stasis. But the lulling patterns could also lead to vertiginous crescendos, stomping cacophony or a jolting final break, dispelling the pretty consonances. It was the sound of old wounds that could never entirely heal.
Calla was no less depressive, but it tiptoed through most of its set, including an announced tribute to George Harrison, his song "Long, Long Time." The band is a trio of Texans transplanted to Brooklyn, and its most recent album, "Scavengers" (Young God), was produced by Mr. Gira. But its musical homes are late-1970's England, when bands like Joy Division were devising haggard mope-rock; the California retreats of Neil Young; and the after- hours New York of the Velvet Underground.
Most of Calla's songs began without drums, as Aurelio Valle played an isolated guitar chord or two and sang a few words in a near whisper, musing through lines like "They set you up to fall, forget it." Wayne B. Magruder's drumbeat, when it came, was measured and patient; the guitar sometimes took on feedback or distortion without getting any louder, and more rarely led the band into a buildup that provided no release. The songs accepted despair without surprise or expectations.