Static Fur: Live at the Grove
Anything the West Virginia music scene lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. Many of the finest Americana artists and singer-songwriters in the business are from the Mountain State. Likewise, some of the best metal acts hail from West Virginia. This state even has a pretty great little group of punk and hardcore bands as well. What it doesn’t have is much of anything that sounds like Static Fur. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a band anywhere that sounds much like this one. While Static Fur has managed to plug into the current wave of interest in post-punk aesthetic, what it does with that genre is unlike anything you’ve heard before.
Static Fur’s debut, Live at the Grove, is a live record, which can be a tricky proposition. All acts want to think they’re good live, even if not all of them really are, and even for those who are, getting a good recording is no mean feat. I’ve personally witnessed gut-wrenching disappointment on bandmates’ faces when they’ve realized, after absolutely killing it on stage, that the sound guy who was supposed to be recording the set didn’t after all.
Debuting with a live record is also rare. The MC5, Hüsker Dü, and Jeff Buckley all debuted this way, but the list dwindles quickly. I imagine many of those artists wanted to capture what was happening at their live shows and make it available to a broader audience, and they weren’t yet sure of what to do with a studio record.
Something special is happening at Static Fur shows. There is an arresting intensity to the band’s performances that shines through clearly on this immaculately recorded live set.
Live at the Grove begins with what is probably the band’s most recognizable song, “Have Nots.” While the form of the track is a growling, hooky thing with a bit of menace, the content is more a lament. To live in Charleston is to confront the class divide on a daily basis. Lawyers in fancy Teslas share sidewalks with homeless and their shopping carts. Just outside the liberal bubble of the city, the surrounding area’s creeks and valleys are home to some of the poorest people in the United States, most of whom are avowed Trump supporters. It’s easy for some to dismiss these people without a thought. “Have Nots” doesn’t ask you to feel sorry for these people, but just acknowledge them as human beings who, sadly, do not have shot in the world. One recalls George Orwell’s 1984, in which O’Brien says, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever.” The boots are treading harder these days. Hold on to your humanity.
I probably listened to “Insomnia” performed live three times before I realized the power of its lyrics. With more than 5 minutes of slowly building intensity, vocalist Patrick Nelson gives listeners a boiled-down goth rock version of Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus. We crave the peace of sleep in a life filled with toil, suffering, disappointment, and absurdity. Camus says that, in the face of this, a person can live a lie, comforting themselves with philosophical nonsense; they can succumb and kill themselves slowly or all at once; or they can live purposefully and with intention, in defiance of the madness of the world. In “Insomnia,” Nelson sings, “I’ve made up my mind, I’m going to live, I’m going to try / Let’s gather as one, push out the noise, and try to unify.” Sleep is not for us; we are insomniacs when faced with the philosophical question of suicide. “Insomnia” reminds us that survival works best when we create unity with our fellow human beings. Community gives us a shot at a meaningful, purposeful existence—maybe our only one. Even in an absurd world, we find our hope with each other.
“Temporary” is one of the best examples of what Static Fur is live. Here, all the pieces are perfectly in place. Although David Stephenson’s bass is the lead instrument, it spars rhymically with Casi Pourfarhadi’s drums, each pulling the song along in manic fits and jerks. Nelson’s guitar adds a few jittery flourishes before taking up its role punctuating the song’s sections with a jabbing intensity, all the while delivering lyrical phrases with a staccato aplomb that is somehow equal parts Mark E. Smith and Ian McCulloch. Rising from this nervy din of sound are Scott McMillian’s synths, here creating a wailing sound somewhere between a distant police siren and a tortured ghost.
If I fault the band for anything, it’s for not including the extremely political “Take My Ashes” or “Mary Jones” in this collection. Many traditional post-punk acts took the typically gothic rock path of being largely apolitical. The current crop of post-punk revivalists have, to their enormous credit, incorporated a more radical punk ideology with their post-punk musical sensibilities. Static Fur resoundly fits into the latter category. That said, perhaps it’s wise that Static Fur didn’t include all its best songs on its first release. Regular fans know there is so much to look forward to from this exceptional band.
The Static Fur musicians have done absolutely everything for themselves. Each song on Live at the Grove features a specific photograph (taken by Stephenson) and layout (designed by McMillian), as does the album as a whole. It’s worth mentioning that members of Static Fur also design all of the band’s merch. They do this not just because it’s fun, but also because it’s important: If we Appalachians want something to exist in our communities, we have to do it ourselves. The college towns in Ohio and Virginia get the big touring bands, and those folks don’t have time for us. But that’s fine because we have Static Fur.