Last night, I went to a late show at (Le) Poisson Rouge – one of my favorite NY venues! – to see Destroyer live. I’m not a huge fan of Destroyer, but I was taken in by a few tracks from their latest album, Kaputt (the few being “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker,” “Painter in Your Pocket,” and the title track). This is music that is probably best described as shoegaze, and is in the vein of Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky, but is way more lyrical.
Dan Bejar is the brains and voice behind Destroyer. In person, this Canadian is mysterious and soft-spoken, with a ‘fro and facial hair that would rival Questlove’s. In concert, he sang and twiddled some MIDI controls, which may not seem like much, except it actually must be pretty challenging to keep all those words straight – the lyrics flow out in massive waves. Bejar’s poetry is more spoken than sung, although he is deft at emphasizing words in a very musical way. The lyrics can be cryptic, funny and intriguing, but when you’re watching him live, you’re not thinking about them (unless, of course, you’re singing along). My eyes actually frequently left Bejar’s person, and inspected the actions of the 5-6 other musicians on the stage. Not only were their keyboards, drums, bass (the usual rock setup)…but there was also a saxophonist and a trumpeter! And I have to admit that the soloing on these two distinctive instruments definitely made my night, and definitely made me respect Destroyer more than other bands of their genre. You see, without this jazzy instrumentation and the clever ways in which it was put to use, Destroyer’s music would be kind of boring. I would maybe use it to create a certain ambiance, or maybe I would study the lyrics more closely. Who knows? But I do believe that at a live show that didn’t start until 11:45 pm, that improvisation was key. I also appreciated the lack of banter in-between songs. Bejar is obviously an interesting guy – his lyrics are poignant, sometimes political (and the way he blends vocal sounds with the music is incredible: “All that slender-wristed white translucent business”) – but he doesn’t blab on about anything. He lets the music speak for itself.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the Destroyer show, but I was pleasantly surprised. And I think that more and more indie bands will follow Destroyer’s path – incorporating jazz sounds and improv to create fascinating textures.*
*P.S. Bejar was definitely inspired by ’80s era musicians, who were creating these kinds of soundscapes just when the technology started to be available.
Okay, so I haven’t posted in a few weeks. The truth is, I’ve been busy - being a culture vulture, an unofficial student of anthropology.
On June 1st, I went to see my favorite band Radiohead at the Prudential Center in NJ. The show was awesome, featuring mostly tracks from The King of Limbs and In Rainbows, although some older gems got in there. I was thrilled when the band played the fan-fave B-side “Myxomatosis” – the song has a metal vibe to it that makes it ideal for live performance. I also had a deeply emotional reaction to the ballad, “Pyramid Song,” as well as to “How to Disappear Completely.” “How to Disappear” is one of my favorite songs, even though it’s only really appropriate for the loneliest moods. I’ve watched the live performance of it so often on Youtube, that actually being there for that song was a dream come true.
On June 9th, I went to one night of the Electric Daisy Carnival, right outside Las Vegas. EDC is one of the largest EDM festivals in the world – up to 300,000 people were there over 3 nights – and some of the world’s most renowned DJs (Tiesto, Avicii, Calvin Harris, Armin van Buuren) were due to perform. I managed to catch Jochin Miller and Calvin Harris, and I really enjoyed their sets. This is music that is all about “the drop” – the whole crowd sings and dances along (the lyrics are usually from well-known pop songs; for example, one of Miller’s tracks featured “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers), and then the DJ counts down until the strong thudding bass comes in. At that point, the dancing turns into jumping, and everyone in the crowd is fist-pumping in rhythm. Except for the fact that the night ended early (due to wind – the elaborate stages and amusement park rides could not bear a desert sandstorm, and EDC did not want anyone getting hurt), it was actually quite fun.
Anyway, if I wanted to write a bland review of these two concerts, I would just stop my post here. But I actually want to draw the reader’s attention to the similarities and differences between these two concerts.
Mostly, there were differences. EDC is interactive, while Radiohead is a spectator sport. A few people sang along to some of the Radiohead classics, but mostly, we wanted to hear Thom Yorke’s voice, and how he would change the melodies (ever so slightly) live. Meanwhile, at EDC, the songs that the DJs chose didn’t really matter – what mattered was that they were popular and everyone knew the words. The DJ would actually stop playing the vocals on the track, and let the audience take over. It was fun to be one of thousands singing, “Who’s gonna save the world tonight?” without any backing, as if we were at a gigantic karaoke bar. The same went for dancing. The DJs would count off until “the drop”, so that we all knew when to start jumping. They would also tell us when to raise our hands up, when to scream, etc. At the Radiohead show, I was sitting in box seats, and I kept wanting to get up, but I felt like I shouldn’t. My body wanted to dance, and I did some clapping and foot-tapping, but no one around me was doing any more than some swaying. EDC was sweaty; the Radiohead concert was cool. Because of the active & interactive nature of EDC, the audience was mostly young. At Radiohead, you saw young and older people alike. And while the music of Radiohead moved me much more emotionally than anything I heard at EDC, I looked around me at the Prudential Center and saw so much ambivalence.
Two things that EDC and Radiohead had in common – hot beats and light shows. When I saw the Radiohead stage, with all of its flashing lights and floating TV screens, I was impressed. When I saw even more elaborate stages at EDC, I was floored. It’s clear that the electronic dance music aesthetic – lasers and neon – is entering into all live music and into pop culture in general. Just look at the neon shirts being sold at the Gap! And now DJs are becoming our pop artists, and Radiohead (like any other rock band) wants to keep up. Sounds good to me – maybe at the next Radiohead concert, everyone will be dancing.