Injury Reserve’s Pivotal Epic, ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix,’ Staggers Lincoln Hall

Griffin Halperin | The PhoenixHip-hop group Injury Reserve performed at Lincoln Hall Oct. 7.

Injury Reserve self-released “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” Sept. 15, their first album following the death of member Stepa J. Groggs on June 29, 2020. This tragic loss could have threatened the group’s flaming creative output. Instead, they melt the cold steel of loss with their incendiary sound, forging something truly unique. Embarking on a world tour, they began the U.S. leg of their tour to much anticipation.

It’s unclear whether Injury Reserve posed a larger threat to the sonic or structural capacities of Lincoln Hall. Colossal waves of sound capsized even the most experienced listeners. Venturing forward at times meant drowning in decibels. While it remained uncertain whether the venue would suffer a Pompeiian fate, the temptation to stay obstructed all exits. 

Heads of bleached hair peeked through the dark, hazy venue like clouds in the night sky. Fog machines met projector beams, pouring diffused light into the hall. The pulsing presence of Common and Mos Def permeated the murk, defining the accumulating crowd. Anticipation fled from pocketed hands to the waiting stage.

Nigerian-born and Baltimore-based Colloboh was electrifying in his opening. Wielding a modular synthesizer, he blended the surrounding light and color into his sonic mixture. With a setlist ranging from propulsive “RPM+” to undulant “Zero Day,” the transitions were — bizarrely — the most mystifying. Shifting tides of sound in the space between arrangements made Colloboh’s influence feel lunar.

As his set came to a close, it became clear that the coiling, auditory strands woven by Colloboh would later be weaponized, fraying under the force of the main act.

Illuminated by a backing central red light, two silhouettes emerged from a premonitory fog. “Outside” ripped open the act with manic intensity. Ritchie With a T’s metered flow served as the only binding force in an otherwise distorted void.

“Superman That” saw the group hammering a molten mass of sound into shape with Cyclopean authority using the audience as the anvil. The stammering senses that remained latched to any semblance of beating rhythm as the ceaseless procession advanced.

Continuing roughly along the album’s tracklist, prowling and panting “SS San Francisco” and “Footwork in a Forest Fire” detonated the crowd. Strobe lights fractured moving bodies into frames. Groggs found corporeal presence in terrifying, echoing growls. Subwoofers acted as sonar rays, infiltrating headspace. Assaulting the senses with liquifying intensity the crowd was reduced to droplets, pooling into mosh pits.

Griffin Halperin | The Phoenix The band played songs from their September release, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

“Ground Zero” followed, sounding like its sonic infrastructure was being corroded in real time, fear of collapse seemed very real. “Wild Wild West” furthered the punkish strain with a roaring ferocity that could melt iron. The music of Injury Reserve is alchemical: sounds are pulverized, dilated, contracted and distilled to potent effect — sometimes all in one song.

At once tidal and tender, standout single “Knees” used blankets of sound to soften glaring loss into a warming presence. Rhythmically amorphous, the song’s unfolding elicited a sense of freedom. Swaying bodies bobbed, each at their own accord.

The finale “Bye Storms” cut through the jagged soundscape with planar synths as blinding white lights evacuated the performers, granting them solace. Sound rained down, somehow grounding from above. Raised hands exalted the majesty of the display.

Affrontingly gestural, Injury Reserve’s sonic frontality only further aids in appreciating their backdrop. Using sound as a vehicle rather than a destination, they sail towards new horizons. Only more enjoyable than becoming lost in the waves is witnessing the Odyssey.

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