Despite venue restrictions in the Netherlands, the Belgian alternative rock group delivered a memorable performance at Vera in Groningen that was as much enchanting as it was an erratic hurricane of sounds.
Just two hours before the beginning of what is supposed to be a triumphant evening for rock music at Vera, the government restricts Dutch public assembly to a maximum of 100 visitors. Both Stake’s manager and the Belgian band itself are seated backstage, eyes glued to press conferences and breaking news on their phones.
It is a bit irritating that the band’s mood is so dampened considering the energetic performance to follow, and even the audience only chats rather quietly as people gather in front of the stage. Support band An Evening With Nights have been scrapped from the bill, so it’s up for Stake to raise the roof.
Despite the mostly quick-paced songs on the band’s newest full-length record Critical Method, Devolution kicks things off in a laid-back manner with the band channeling their inner Shoegaze. The two guitarists Brent and Cis trade off dreamy chord progressions with wah-infused melody work that glistens with brilliance, showcasing the band’s more intricate side.
The quartet from Wevelgem amps up the stage action with the at times bewildering breaks in Catatonic Dreams, only to return to beats that rock back and forth like a steadily sinking ship. Drummer Joris Casier has a knack for guiding the band with felt tempo and impromptu speeding up of songs instead of a clicktrack. Similar to Abe Cunningham from Deftones, the transitions between tempo and time signatures can hit the listener like an unexpected left upper hook. This practice shines through especially in the bonkers, nu-metal infused Careless, or the roller coaster ride named Eyes For Gold that closes the set.
Not forgetting their roots as the formerly known Steak Number Eight, three older songs also find a way into the 70-minute set. Return of the Kolomon is a mostly instrumental dreamy journey that takes the listener on a high speed flight through time and space, musically equally balancing discomfort with positivity.
Yet, despite the depth of older releases, it feels as if the new concoctions on Critical Method just drive the points home more efficiently. Both the title track and Doped Up Salvations throw curveballs at the listeners left and right, the latter hops from breakdown to breakdown and dives into a mesmerizing guitar solo.
The timid audience thanks the group with whiplash-inducing headbanging and loud cheering, while at a clear distance to one another. The uncertainty about restrictions on concerts, daily life and how Covid-19 will affect us, hangs over the evening like a looming shadow.
For Stake, there can only be one way to fight these sentiments: an engaging performance.
Everybody Knows sees frontman Brent go batshit crazy as he gives the best impression of a chicken in a hardcore band you could imagine: The microphone stand is thrown around, shared with the drummer, and kind of swallowed whole, while the clearly detuned guitar just stays that way – Punk’s not Dead.
In contrast, The Absolute Center builds on enchanting dynamic tensions and tremolo picking that catapults you into outer space towards the end. Similar to Brutus (Belgium), walls of sound are built up only to crash into heavy midsections that will keep you moving and screaming along.
Overall, it feels like the band are a ticking time bomb that – considering their stylistic change to heavier realms – could explode in the years to come. The safety measures for a global pandemic may have shut a couple of doors on sold-out shows the band has been wanting to play, but will surely make the comeback even sweeter. Peppering their tracks with diverse influences and a zero-fucks-given live presentation, Stake cannot be stopped, even though the Coronavirus might have been trying to make them.