Nothing at Ace of Cups

Andy Downing

The bandmates in Nothing are so consistently embroiled in turmoil that it wouldn't be a surprise to learn that the group's affairs are actually managed by Heath Ledger's “Dark Knight” Joker, who once professed, “I'm an agent of chaos.”

In 2015, the Philadelphia crew pulled the plug on its deal with Collect Records prior to the release of its sophomore album,Tired of Tomorrow, owing to the label's connection with controversial former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli.

“There was a time when it was like, ‘Who knows what the hell is going to come out of this?'” said drummer Kyle Kimball of the months the album lived in label limbo before finally surfacing in May 2016 on Relapse Records. “We didn't know if we were just going to have to scrap it altogether.”

This followed a violent summer 2015 incident where singer Domenic “Nicky” Palermo was attacked and beaten after a concert in Oakland, California, sustaining a fractured skull, brain damage and broken vertebrae in his back, among other injuries.

Most recently, Nothing was forced to complete an Australian tour without Palermo after a booking agent informed authorities of the singer's past legal troubles. (Palermo was released from prison in 2011, two years into a seven-year sentence for aggravated assault and attempted murder, handed down after he stabbed someone during a fight.) Had the frontman attempted the string of dates, it could have triggered a wider investigation that would have placed the entire tour in jeopardy.

Oh, and the group was also banned from playing in Singapore after government officials charged that the musicians promote drug use via social media — “We're not sure what that's in reference to, and we don't think we do that,” Kimball said — though even the threat of public caning (or worse) couldn't deter them from performing.

“It was crazy flying in and on the immigration card it said, ‘Death to drug traffickers,' which was a little scary, I guess,” said Kimball, who joins his bandmates for a concert at Ace of Cups on Sunday, March 5. “The promoter straight up said he would take the fall for it if we got caught doing the show, so we were like, ‘Fuck it.' … At some point, Nicky informed the crowd that we weren't supposed to be there at all, and that the government had banned us, and I think people were really into the fact we played anyway.

“We just tried to move along and make the best of it. That's all we try to do as a band.”

The same resolve exhibited by Nothing can be traced through Palermo's bloodlines, specifically to the singer's mother, Barbara, whom he credits with his perseverance.

“My mom was a strong lady. She raised a crazy family by herself because my dad … was the opposite. My dad was a psychopath and an alcoholic,” Palermo said. “My brother [inherited] some from each of them, and so did I. My brother tried to jump out of a four-story parking garage. I never have; I went to prison. People deal with things differently.”

For Palermo, songwriting has long served as something of a stabilizing force — “I wouldn't say it fixes anything, but it for sure sustains me,” he said — offering comfort amid chaos. Following the Oakland attack, for one, the frontman decamped to Big Sur for 10 days where he attempted to shake the ill effects of the beating (vertigo, vicious headaches) while penning the songs that would eventually form the backbone ofTired of Tomorrow.

“We switched a lot of the content we had previously recorded for the demo,” said Palermo, his voice reduced to a corpse-like rasp by a nasty head cold. (There's that good fortune again.) “Once everything happened in Oakland, it kind of took over and needed to come out. Everything before that seemed irrelevant at that point.”

The singer's corroded state of mind spilled over into songs that are deeply embittered and filled with anxiety and an unending sense of dread. “Watch out for those who dare to say/That everything will be OK,” Palermo sings on “Vertigo Flowers.” The infection continues to spread through tracks like “A.C.D. (Abcessive Compulsive Disorder),” where the frontman cautions, “You know me/And you know I am not well,” and “Nineteen Ninety Heaven,” which boils the band's acidic worldview down to bumper-sticker length: “Life's a nightmare.”

Though the lyrics project darkness, decay and distrust, the songs themselves can be unnervingly buoyant, anchored by gorgeous, gauzy guitars that present a calm often missing from the singer's words.

“The darkest things in life tend to bring out the most beautiful things,” Palermo said. “And we try to capture that as much as we can.”

Ace of Cups

7 p.m. Sunday, March 5

2619 N. High St., Old North

ALSO PLAYING: The End of the Ocean, Vis-A-Vis