“How will this epicenter of the world political climate cope when our touring circus, so ridiculous that surely there can be none alike, rolls into town?” Pond frontman Nick Allbrook wrote in a blog post as he flew into Washington, D.C., on the eve of the band’s second U.S. tour in 2010.
“Impossible to predict. Bring on America.”
Eight years later, the collaborative, creative consortium in the form of a psychedelic rock band known as Pond brought the same ridiculous touring circus to D.C.’s Black Cat. Its otherworldly zeal and hodgepodge of noise left attendants’ psyches as rattled as their eardrums.
The spectacle took place Nov. 7 in the Black Cat, a dimly lit music venue and bar sporting a black-and-white checkerboard floor. The scene was reminiscent of an elegant 1920s parlor, starkly contrasting the retro neon band merchandise on display among the laid-back din of young music fans.
A half hour after the doors opened, no more than 20 people had amassed near the stage. With invitingly low, shoddy construction, the lighting and sound system were far from intricate; two warm red lights shone behind the stage, illuminating gargantuan 5-foot-tall pillars of speakers stacked on either side.
Despite its often antique appearance, the Black Cat has only been around since the early ’90s, when it earned a reputation as a safe haven for independent artists to share their music and spread their message. Wednesday night’s show was no exception to this legacy. Artist and audience inhabited the same intimate space, and the artists performed with the crowd as much as to them.
Rattail-rocking singer-songwriter Juan Wauters, the opening act, held the audience steadfastly transfixed and wholeheartedly engaged, whether he was directing a call-and-response-style ditty or challenging patrons to races across the venue. While Wauters was careening across the Black Cat, Allbrook sat with his legs crossed on stage and provided a soundtrack on flute.
As the main act took to the stage, the still-buzzing audience lauded lead guitarist and vocalist Allbrook’s return with the remainder of Pond: drummer James Ireland; synth virtuoso Jamie Terry, adorned in a reflective silver tracksuit; and the multi-instrumentalist founding members Jay Watson on bass guitar and “Shiny Joe” Ryan on rhythm guitar. Watson and Ryan, along with Allbrook, brought Pond to life in Perth, Australia, in 2008 as a collaborative, no-holds-barred side project to their popular psychedelic band Tame Impala.
Without a formal introduction, the quintet got situated, then proceeded to blow the lid off the venue.
Pond kicked off its so-called “touring circus” with “30000 Megatons.” The opening track of its most recent album, “The Weather,” is a foreboding composition that stylistically reflects a nuclear apocalypse with its lyrical composition: “I look out at the mirror, look out at the world / 30,000 megatons is just what we deserve.” Beginning with Allbrook’s introspective musings and a longing synth loop from Terry, the song eventually devolves into a pulsing, dissociative explosion mimicking a soundscape at Ground Zero.
The deafening, cacophonic crescendo was followed by an foreboding silence. Then, the telltale grisly bass line of “Sweep Me Off My Feet” rang through the Black Cat, courtesy of Terry. Allbrook seized on the crowd’s enthusiasm for Pond’s hit single, grabbed the mic and casually hopped off the 3-foot-tall stage, sashaying through the crowd with a seductive swagger.
Seemingly dissatisfied with travelling through the crowd, Allbrook decided to travel over them, crowd-surfing two songs later, during “Waiting Around for Grace.” Adorned with a loose button-down shirt and a faceful of glitter, he first stepped into the crowd and personally serenaded choice audience members with theatrics reminiscent of David Bowie.
But, as soon as the band transitioned from melodic psychedelia to the drum-heavy pop melody, Allbrook launched himself off the barricade with a guttural whoop, managing to stay on key for the chorus’ soaring vocals as he was passed around atop the audience and eventually returned to the dinky stage.
Through the rest of the set, the cosmic connoisseurs mixed blasts from the past with more recent endeavors. The Aussies tried out their 2018 single “Burnt Out Star” directly after 2009’s “Don’t Look at the Sun or You’ll Go Blind,” an unpredictable cocktail of funk and Jimi Hendrix-esque distortion on their first studio album “Psychedelic Mango.” The experimental album, unreleased on major music streaming platforms, is a testament to the band’s humble beginnings as a creative, rather than commercial, outlet.
The members of Pond left their instruments onstage and hesitantly exited after a sweeping dreamscape, better known as the title track of the 2017 album “The Weather.” Heeding the almost immediate encore chant, the group triumphantly emerged again for a final performance.
Pond finished with “Man It Feels Like Space Again,” a journey through the musical sublime that escalated in pitch, instrumentation and volume with each refrain. After this climax, the band disappeared for the final time, as if boarding a spaceship in search of new sounds. The audience exited the Black Cat partially deafened by the pillars of sound but enlightened to the core by the once-in-a-lifetime travelling circus called Pond.