PHILADELPHIA, PA—Atlanta-based aggrotech band Combichrist performed at the Theatre Of Living Arts on Philadelphia’s famous South Street, the third stop on a 28-city U.S. tour that will cross the country and end up back in the deep Southeast in May.
The opening act, William Control, did an admirable job of warming the crowd. Exhilarating and bizarre, William has an eccentric presence, dressed and groomed like a Jersey Boy at the height of the Four Seasons reign in the 1960s, wearing a snug shirt-and-tie, vest and sporting a perfect pompadour, totally discordant with his satanic persona and demagogic style. The image was subverted by the glimpse of tattoos sneaking up his neck above his starched collar and beyond the French cuffs of his sleeves. His take on music was totally weird but entertaining. His on stage antics were casually mind-boggling, as he violently swung the microphone cable, vehemently chain-smoking and exhorting the adoring, predominantly female, crowd of fans to chant vulgar and evil slogans along with him. The beautiful blond Ash Costello in a black vinyl miniskirt joined him for a couple of songs. William Control’s performance and many of his songs like “Only Human Sometimes,” “Strangers” and “Razor’s Edge” were disturbingly unforgettable.
At around 9:30 p.m. and after a considerable pause, the theater went dark, the video screen lifted and an orchestral fanfare with a heavy martial groove filled the air. Toward the end, the band members took their places. The ominous, British-accented and robotic voice that is the introduction to “We Were Made To Love You” commented in flat, emotionless tones, “We love you…now die.” Terrifying in a hideous, red-illuminated, full-face mask, Norwegian native and frontman Andy LaPlegua burst on stage, his harsh and raspy voice screaming the main theme of that track from the new 2014 album, We Love You. The crowd, who, at that point, remained stationary, took up its venomous mantra of “Hate, disorder, love, destroy.”
The relentlessly driving “Today I Woke To The Rain Of Blood” and “Blut Royale” charged the audience up, and soon a violent, but comradely mosh pit broke out in the center of the horde. The venue staff was exceptionally accommodating, allowing the dancers free reign as long as no one was being seriously injured. A “girl pit” spun off with one statuesque brunette who discarded all inhibitions as she led a small crowd of punkish beauties who made up a significant subset of the spectators.
The setlist in general went back and forth between entries from the new We Love You albums and their classic favorites such as Throat Full Of Glass. One exception was “No Redemption,” a classic guitar metal piece that is the soundtrack from a video game.
The melodious “Denial” offered a slight respite from the relentlessly driving, punishing style of most of the other songs. The track “What The F… Is Wrong With?” eloquently posed that perennial question—that all of us have asked—in the form of a rousing anthem that is from an album of a similar name. 16 songs made up the main body of this breathtaking show.
The final song, “Love Is A Razorblade,” ended the set, but the enthusiastic crowd demanded more, so the band returned to the stage to perform “F… That S…” and “Sent To Destroy,” which together captured the quintessence of Combichrist’s “Techno Body Music.” Lovers of this kind of hard-edged, mean-spirited style of music couldn’t possibly have asked for more.