Local musicians — turn down the damn volume already. Live, Altus hits harder than the Clear Channel-friendly tracks on their MySpace page would indicate, burying their catchy hooks in snarling power chords and a grumbling low-end rhythm, but the overbearing amplifiers (a problem common at small-venue performances) damn-near deep-six Steph McVey’s should-be-soaring vocals. Many punkish acts who value aggressive noise over engaging songwriting sound better with a muddy mix, but the pop-minded Altus suffers for it in the sweatbox acoustics of Music Town record shop. McVey’s voice is apparently sopped up by the sweaty wall of tightly packed spectator meat in the front row, leaving the rest of the store soaking in standard-issue repetitive chord progressions throughout opener “Two-Bit Johnny”.
Her voice gains strength during the band’s five-song set, though, and by the as-yet-untitled penultimate number, the guitars-over-vocals dynamic pays off — finally the right kind of noisy. Guitarist Josh Huskin and bassist John Valdarrama threaten to crush McVey under a post-industrial hardcore grind, but she pushes back just enough, subtly smoothing the track’s masculine abrasion with her melodic cries.
McVey dedicates closer “Park on Gramercy,” to all the bands who played at former hardcore hangout Scooby’s Snack Shack, and the song sounds like a fitting tribute to the now-defunct pizza parlor/concert venue, which hosted some hot and heavy local bands. The ascending chords repeatedly false-start toward majestic cheese, like a skipping Journey record, but when the beat finally breaks, it’s a savage surprise onslaught of post-punk violence. Instrumentally speaking, of course. The song’s actual lyrical content is rendered absolutely unintelligible in this setting. Promises of a better mix might make their show at the Warhol on October 24 a must-see, but I’m left undecided (and all head-achey) after this in-store performance. Here’s hoping the knobs on Altus’s amplifiers aren’t broken off at 11.