February 12, 2023

Codeine played Union Pool (Night 2)

Ahead of their upcoming appearance at The Numero Group's 20th anniversary festival, Numero Twenty, slowcore pioneers Codeine played two shows at Brooklyn's Union Pool.

At certain times, reunions can feel like an easy cash grab for the sake of nostalgia and not really something done with a lot of heart. I'm not sure Codeine ever had enough popularity for that to be the case and on the second night of their first two shows in over a decade, the band truly seemed to be doing it for the fans and their everlasting loyalty to the group. As the turn of the '90s, Codeine took the delightful dream-pop of bands like Galaxie 500 and gave it a nightmarish, depressing twist. The resulting slowcore style of oozing grooves and tar-soaked melodies gave new light to the idea that songs didn't need to be fast and furious to be heavy and their, at-times, brutal onslaught of rusted guitar sounds, clanging bass, and pounding drums packed a truly vigorous punch that felt like hardcore in slow motion. Since their break-up in 1994, the band has gotten back together once for a reunion tour, but this weekend marked roughly only their twentieth show in almost thirty years and as they brought these stunning tracks to a packed, yet intimate Union Pool, it was clear that their power was just is just as strong today as it was during their original run. As the room full of aging white male indie rock fans slowly bobbed their heads to the miraculously slow beats, the passion felt immediate and all-encompassing with everyone instantly giving in to the lurching rhythms that flowed like sludge (I'm pretty sure the fastest beat we heard all night came during the drumming soundcheck). The tension and build-up of each song crawled with amazing perfection and the restraint held by the trio was remarkable, no one faulted and came in early and if anything, their drag felt extra when brought to life, adding slight suspension to their already glacial-paced rhythms. "Cigarette Machine" turned things up a notch as John Engle's guitar packed on the heat, like a blow torch melting iron, slowly bending and warping the song with vicious demeanor. Their sometimes twisted take on melody felt even more abrasive onstage as well, the intensity of the band coming sharply into focus all while still conjuring up rather melancholic memories of the past. Even at their loudest moments, the band still displayed a meditative and trance-like atmosphere that swallowed the crowd whole. "Cave In" received an astounding rendition that felt like it could've recorded seismic activity just by the bass and drums alone, but the towering noise of guitar helped establish it as the highlight of the night and was met with an emphatic "FUCK YEAH" from one member of the audience while everyone else was left in silent awe. It was followed by a hopeful, yet confident "Codeine forever." The performance of their cover of "Atmosphere" was dedicated to the late Mimi Parker of Low who, according to Stephen Immerwahr "kicked our asses on the Joy Division competition." It was a rather spellbinding moment of surreal beauty that gave the night a moment of serenity and reflections of sadness. "D" the charged-up opener to their debut Frigid Stars LP was another stellar moment of the evening and once again saw Engle's shredding guitar rise to new heights. For the main set closer, drummer Chris Brokaw took over duties on bass leaving Immerwahr to take on vocals alone, giving a new and powerful dynamic that was highlighted by a staggering "Pea" and the lyrics "When I see the sun, I hope it shines on me and gives me everything" felt as powerful as ever, almost as if they were spotlighted in their own special moment as the vocals floated weightlessly through the song's percussion-less and anti-gravity moods. Codeine was never a band for the masses so to see them on stage once again feels really special. It feels like one for the fans and the true love of music and that was a refreshing feeling. By the look of the faces of the three guys on stage, it looked like actual love on their end as well.

Set list:

01 "Barely Real"
02 "Tom"
03 "Median"
04 "Cigarette Machine"
05 "Pickup Song"
06 "Sea"
07 "Jr"
08 "Cave-In"
09 "Loss Leader"
10 "Atmosphere" [Joy Division cover] 
11 "D"
12 "Pea"
13 "Promise of Love"
14 "Broken-Hearted Wine"

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