Salem, just before the polite stroke of midnight, plowed through a tight set that began with a new instrumental song, and to add to their mystery, never gave into the audience pleas for an encore (oh those pesky, strict showcase time slots).

Salem, if you haven’t heard, is the band that’s been blasted with descriptions as disparate as “dreaded” or “visionaries” and whose last live NYC appearance was unlovingly called a “clusterfucked disaster” by
Pitchfork. They’ve been blogged about so frequently that you almost didn’t want to know them any more after reading all the hype and vile.

However, their show at Santos came on strong and won over the majority, who were mostly there to see them anyway. Many patient fans showed their allegiance even before Salem’s set began, stoically choosing to sit through a large dose of far-too-cheerful, uptempo electronics from acts like Restless People and synth poppers Kisses to claim their spot for the witch-house event of the season. These acts are all on the same record label, and though the peppy, electro dance bands bookending Salem didn’t necessarily “work” on the bill with them, I suppose it’s a boon to the label’s eclectic taste to have such diversification. Salem, though, was tonight’s pre-ordained standout.


If frontman John Holland was the high priest, bald and grave, bathed in green light and fierce with guitar, the other newly bleached two-thirds of the band, Heather Marlatt (in red Wisconsin Badgers jersey) and Jack Donoghue, were the ever-ready assistants at the roaring red altar. Rapper Jack, usually at the forefront, sang the least, and singer/keyboardist Heather gave it her all when she was called to, with nary a sour note sung which might sully the intoxicating, heavy, drag/swoon of Salem’s room-quaking sound.

The trio has obviously worked on filling out their performance and making their show a nearly motionless, yet intoxicating spectacle worth watching, which will be a help for them when they hit the critical UK for their next dates.–Madeline Virbasius /video by Zabatay