As a species of physics, the thunderstorm, at base, is a symptom of a measured movement from chaos to stability.
On hot days in humid climes, parcels of low-slung air pick up warm moisture from ocean surfaces and sunshone earth. These vessels drift upward, occasionally under the coercion of mountain slopes, and accelerate through layers of cool hung higher in the atmosphere. Colder cells, in turn, draft downward, to be nearer by need to the crust. Convection results, flinging precipitates – bits of rain and ice and dust – through a kilometres-high cycle, to the elevation even of jetliners. The accumulation of their motions and their collisions begets an electric field and a separation of charges, positive from negative. Such a split in the magnetic resonances of two spaces, within or between clouds, or between a cloud and the ground, demands an address familiar to us in everyday osmotic gradients, as when sauce seeps into panned tofu, or bath water weeps from pruned fingertips.
Each ignition entails an intense change in pressure and prompts the air surrounding the channel of energy to expand outwardly, violently, in a compression wave that outpaces the speed of sound
Thus the spectral flash, that awesome jag of light, is a transfer of ions from a region of excess to a region of shortage. The suddenness of that shift is itself an eruption, akin in intensity to the detonation of a missile, and measurements estimate that air currents in the vicinity of this centimeters-thin ribbon of plasma can briefly retain temperatures of tens of thousands of degrees Celsius, several times hotter than that of the sun’s corona. Each ignition entails an intense change in pressure and prompts the air surrounding the channel of energy to expand outwardly, violently, in a compression wave that outpaces the speed of sound. The audible marker of this explosion follows in that ripple’s wake, at a lag that gets shorter and shorter as the origin of the storm moves towards its observer. Stationed under an iron anvil of rain, claps and peals and rumbles of thunder routinely reach volumes north of 120 decibels – that is, about as loud as an amp at a rock show.
That noise – charcoal summer sky, tub-panicked dogs, roll-up frantic the driver’s side window – gives a good sense of the storm and drive of Lightning Bolt. This pair of middle-aged men, torsos tour-wide and weary under the eyes, who in another life might play pétanque on a river bank with quiet cigarettes in hand, produce instead a roar of rhythms. For a shade under an hour, the pummelling drums and the hand-hammered bass suggest, en lieu of some sun-serene afternoon, a cumulus tower that refuses to budge, shot through with tommy gun rounds of electricity. Their breaks are brief and far in-between – one track rolls into the next, as cracks of thunder trail high on the hems of their priors, and the interludes erupt nigh as soon as they’ve begun.
Pogo kids in hip prints bump heads with balding men
Their tight control, all subtle pedals and drumstick flipping flair, spills over the stage edge into a nest of abandon. Hot breath, sprayed sweat, joints thrown every which way. Pogo kids in hip prints bump heads with balding men whose arms sway with their white beards. Those thrown to the floor by errant limbs and drunk stupors and slick patches find a half dozen hands under their armpits, hauling them back up into the stop motion strobe. There are no fights, though there’s griping about the elbows of tanktop metal heads held a little too high. A gaggle of fans pressed against the stage barricade finds invites to stand behind the band and their tangle of wires. An arc becomes a line becomes a parade of stage-divers; no one seems to mind the rise and fall of hands and asses.
As a species of artist, Lightning Bolt, at base, utilize loudness and pace to multiply the extant emotional energies that their fans bring to their shows. Workday stresses, teenage angsts, bonhomie joys – whatever its substance, each sense carries a charge, and the band sets itself to setting those sentiments afrenzy.
Their verve is contagious, and in their best cases, they inaugurate a feedback loop between stage and pit, mimicking their bygone, stage-less acts, as a kind of convection that leads, in individual show-goers and the colliding collective, to ignition. The fire lights in the chaos of the crowd, in quiet desires for a one-hour sanction of violence, in the nauseas of a room with no air and no space and no possibility of reprieve from shoving hips.
However, whatever these outward markers, there is revealed in the fire of these simultaneous catharses, in the moment when the encore ends and the entry opens up and the quiet of the night reveals your deafness to nothing but tinnitus, to an underwater ringing that prevents one from sleeping, there stands the end of these middle age men: when the storm blows over, there remains the quiet serenity of an emptiness.