Oneohtrix Point Never
The Institute of Contemporary Art; Boston, MA
I visit Boston, my old home, a lot. I have friends there still in college; my old school is there; and my favorite bar is there. Needless to say, there are a lot of memories in that city. But I also feel a personal sense of decay every time I visit, and I never felt it more than this weekend when I saw Oneohtrix Point Never — one of the best shows I’ve ever seen (but more on that later). When I walked into my old bar — my former go-to spot to take dates, all exes now — to get a drink, the usual bartender (Michael) was still there and instantly recognized me, but for most of the new staff, I was a stranger where I used to be a regular. It was also my first time in town since The Boston Phoenix stopped publishing, which is where I got my first job working at a print publication (I was spending my time last week screen-capping my writing on their website before they all turn into a big 404 error), and later, at an after party from a memorial for a friend who had passed away last year, I bumped into someone I had worked with in college. He was embarrassed because he couldn’t remember my name, which I said was nothing to feel bad about: I couldn’t remember his either.
Not to say any of these feelings are unique; in fact, they are extremely mundane. But while none of it was at the forefront of my mind when I went to see Oneohtrix Point Never at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, that changed when Daniel Lopatin, a master at playing with decaying memory, started performing. Anyone who has listened to Replica knows he has a way of injecting these thoughts into your mind, subconsciously or not. The performance, titled Reliquary House, with visuals by Nate Boyce, has been done before at MoMA, but we were given a huge shock right beforehand: The program director made his announcements and then casually ended with, “I just talked to Dan, and he said he has mostly new material tonight.” Before that massive news could even really be processed by any of us, Lopatin and Boyce came out and started.
A reliquary is a sort of shrine that houses ancient relics, and in this case, these relics are commercials: bruised, beaten, broken, and warped in all their beauty. And, with the all-new material (a new album is coming soon, but no details have yet been revealed), Oneohtrix Point Never has progressed the style of Replica beyond anything I could have imagined. The music is a massive collage of memories that are at times stunningly beautiful, sad, dissonant, and spiritual, all of it paired perfectly with Nate Boyce’s hyperreal digital sculptures projected above them. The pairing is very appropriate due to the way OPN’s new songs sound so three-dimensional, ebbing and flowing from overwhelmingly dense to airy and smooth. This time around, he gives the samples more room to breathe, with moments of tremendously heavy beats that just explode out of the mix. Ghostly samples of choirs haunt tracks, and to see him trigger samples in his intense way is genuinely exciting to watch.
One of the major questions I had before going to the show may be a little inevitable. Daniel Lopatin is perhaps the most influential person on the vaporwave scene (it has evolved tremendously, but Chuck Person’s eccojams still remain a blueprint), and I was hoping to see if there was a reaction or a response to it in his new music. And there is. It’s difficult to describe how, and it might just be me hearing him live again with the reappropriative musical context of 2012 in mind, but artists like New Dreams Ltd. (Macintosh Plus) and James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual felt like reference points in the new music but absent when he finished the set with “Nassau” and (an awesomely dissonant version of) “Child Soldier.” The perfect moment for me, though, came roughly 30 minutes in: after triggering a choral sample over a sea of throbbing percussion, Lopatin actually sat on the floor, back against his table of electronics (and the audience), and looked up at the projector, watching, just his head in view. For just a moment, he was soaking everything in, just as we were.
The first time I saw Oneohtrix Point Never play was about two months before Replica was released. I spoke to him after the show and told him I’d been listening to my promo of the album, and I honestly thought it was the best album of the year. Three months and one perfect score later, TMT named it just that. It’s still early, and we can’t know for sure what the new album will really be like, but after leaving the show with a new perspective on contemporary electronic music, on this city, and maybe a little on myself too, I know one thing for sure: Something is coming from Oneohtrix Point Never, and it is going to be huge.
Devendra Banhart / Swans
Music Hall of Williamsburg; Brooklyn, NY
My girl and I enter to a quaint Devendra Banhart squeaking out Spanish licks and gently plucking strings for a shoulder-to-shoulder, swaying crowd half-repeating the song. He stops, casually speaks his mind to the crowd following meaning to the song just sung, which I hate, but whatever, and provides basis for the next that has seamlessly started playing. With charm and politeness, he croons through seven or eight more songs. Just he and his guitar. I typically have no patience for this kinda stuff, but he convinced me through heckling humor or nostalgia. Maybe it was nostalgia. And he’s funny, and he cuts, and he thanks Swans deeply, and we wait for 45 minutes, as it takes him five to exit the stage and 40 for Swans to dawn it.
Once the Swans flood onto the stage, their introduction is exactly the wall of sound you expect, and my girl is standing 3 feet back with a smile. And as it builds through drums, slide guitar, staggering bass, harsh guitar notes, random persecution, bow-noise, and cries/chants, I realize the whole stage is openly microphone’d. I found this out during the hushed moments as Michael Gira softly (yet through the speakers clearly) directs and perfects the sound emulsion. And this is how the entire two-and-a-half hours proceed: an entirely pleasure-driven live set centering his idea of what Brooklyn sounded like via Swans. Oh, shit that’s terribly bland. I’m saying the carefully crafted egotistical measure that Gira brings to noise and sounds and Swans, including the irresistibly flagrant takeover of marketability in the Brooklyn area (see: Girls), provided a crushing experience both for the drabness of passerbyers in the area, and those forced to this location by Swans fan-dom. The blend was a beautiful awakening for the all-encompassing, endearingly prophetic in might and will and visual thought.
Tate Modern; London, England
When The Mix was released in 1991, it created an irreversible divide between fans who were willing to accept new material, regardless of the form it took, and those who were disgusted by the very thought of a pseudo best-of. Throughout a sweeping gape of the 1970s, Kraftwerk had positioned themselves at the forefront of electronic music in using synthesizers and drum machines to create compositions that set a benchmark for the hordes of aspiring electronic acts that were to follow. The Mix was seen as a turning point because it saw the group demonstrating a desire to revisit past material and identify with their music through a new context. Although this may appear to have been industrious at the time, by that period, their back-catalog had achieved cult-classic status, which meant they were altering their history in ways most fans were not ready for. The Mix was widely shunned by dedicated followers and critics alike, not only because it saw the band looking backward, but because Kraftwerk’s ‘greatest hits’ were being tampered with.
Announcing the leap from analogue to digital recording on the album also symbolized a desire to drive forward technologically — ambition derived from intent to reshape the dimensions of those classics in a way that should have improved sound quality and allowed for fans to experience Kraftwerk in a contemporary light. That never really happened though. Despite the fact that a number of tracks were subject to a dance floor-oriented shift, the mastering of the record left plenty to be desired. It sounded flat, half-baked. The group’s signature tracks had been sacrificed on the alter of remix without yielding particularly pleasing results, and that was enough to push the hardcore over the edge. The Mix consequentially went down as an unjustifiable failure — a step in the wrong direction. So why would anyone in their right mind chose to see that troubled regress performed in its entirety over any of the master works?
For a generation of listeners born after the heyday of Trans-Europe Express, and who grew up in a world coming to terms with the scope of electronic music and its capabilities, The Mix was a solid introduction to the efforts of the very outfit that had kicked things off way back when. The album worked as an embodiment of manhandled success that shed light on previous material in a way that demonstrated Ralph Hütter and Florian Schneider’s willingness to experiment — all this at a time when the remix was a standard format on cassette and CD singles. Indeed, this was my initial experience with the band, and one of the central reasons I chose The Mix as the album to see performed live at Kraftwerk’s recent Tate Residency.
The London shows took place 10 years after the group’s most recent release, Tour De France, and showcased every other studio effort from 1974’s Autobahn hence — eight albums, eight nights. Each performance promised two hours of music, including every track from the album of the day plus a selection of hits with improvisational fragments and state-of-the-art 3D visual effects. The concept sounded amazing when it was announced, and despite the fact that Kraftwerk had already conducted similar performances in New York and Berlin, when the London tickets were released, the Tate website crashed at the hands of rampant admirers desperate to spectate.
The Turbine Hall is a cold and hollow space that works tremendously well as a makeshift stage. As we approached, the chimney protruding from the main building seemed so fitting amid the grey clouds that shuffled overhead it might easily have played a forgotten factory wherein a collection of neglected showroom dummies had been left to decay, only to come alive at night and perform electronic music for a starstruck selection. I had read a number of reviews about the concerts leading up to Night Seven and had a good idea of what to expect: 3D glasses, a black cushion, and a sold-out show that gradually shapeshifts through the album’s tracklist before spinning out into a panoply of hits. However, nothing can quite prepare for a 120-minute spectacle fronted by four men wearing illuminated lycra bodysuits, standing in front of their keyboards and pummeling their audience with cyberling techno classics.
The lights went down and a stern robotic voice projected over the audience: “Ladies and gentlemen” (something in German… something in English), “K R A F T W E R K” — the black drape covering the stage fell to the ground and “The Robots” burst across the venue. It might have been a pumped-up version of the original, but it sounded impeccable with the surround sound set up. The 3D spectacle displayed vintage cuts of mannequins moving their limbs slowly to the thumping drawl of the 1970s classic in an overwhelming surge of nostalgia as Ralph Hütter gingerly manipulated his keys alongside new recruits through the track’s iconic refrain.
After a beautiful rendition of “Computer Love” the momentum of “Autobahn” started up. It’s a track I have been told was revolutionary when it first hit the shelves on vinyl, for if you placed your speakers in the right place when listening to it, the fact that you could hear the cars zooming from one side of the room to the other was considered a mesmerizing party trick — all you had to do was shut your eyes and pretend you were on some sort of mad electro highway. I hadn’t imagined that shutting my eyes would be in the cards this evening, as the 3D visuals were supposed to be a component to behold. However, the MS paint VW that trundled along a cartoon road looked like it had come out of a kid’s TV show — it was a big disappointment that was only half-rescued by a shot of a dashboard and a gloved hand, which slowly turned up the volume to produce a series of music notes that poured out onto the audience to brilliant effect.
By the time “Radioactivity” kicked in, even the sight of people lifting their mobiles every few minutes to share the moment on Instagram could not taint my elated state. This was the track I had come to see, and it went down an absolute treat. It was one of those transcendental ‘wow’ moments that got me thinking, “Am I really here?” “Am I really experiencing this?” The croaking, mechanical voice “Stop! Radioactivity” and the humanized vocals that follow it’s in the air for you and me made this enough of a protest song without the inclusion of “Fukushima” to the laundry list of power plants Hütter reels off as names appears on the screen like newfangled superstar brands — “Tschernobyl / Harrisburg / Sellafield / Hiroshima.”
Each of those songs, along with a wonderful version of the “Trans-Europe Express,” “Abzug,” and “Metal On Metal” sequence, all came in the first 40 minutes or so, which left the rest of the show lingering in the balance of untold possibility. Where I disagree with other critics, such as The Guardian’s Michael Hann, is when he suggests the only place Kraftwerk had to go was downhill. How could that possibly be the case when there remained so many directions to take the show in!? As it happened, the second half was every bit exciting as what preceded. The synthetic panache of “The Model,” the cyber dirge of “Spacelab,” and the menacing whir of “Metropolis” were followed by a version of “Man Machine” that was just delightful, the undisputed highlight of the evening embedded deep within a context of glorious techno pop.
The Mix was somewhat disfigured by the songs played between it, but because the album itself lacks any structured narrative, Hütter’s keenness to experiment became easier to observe. The ‘greatest hits’ set-list avoided a strict diet of traditional crowd pleasers, and while the visuals might not have been wholly successful, they complemented certain aspects of the album’s unintentional aesthetic, which was pitted against an ultra-crisp sonic finish courtesy of the Tate audio setup. The evening was a triumph, even if that ropey stretch of “Autobahn” left me baffled, but then again, I could have always closed my eyes.
OM / Sir Richard Bishop
The Larimer Lounge; Denver, CO
Any metal show might have put a nerd like me out of place, but for some reason I thought a bill like this one would have the least opportunity to make me feel awkward. Of course, showing up without a date didn’t help, but something still felt a little off. Maybe it was ME who was making the SHOW feel awkward. Whatever; a tall PBR ordered, I hung around and wrote notes about the side-bartendress being nervous to plug in a string of stage lights that blew the power last time.
She did end up plugging them in, and all was well, so Sir Richard Bishop sat down and made baby faces at the neck of his guitar while his fingers did unimaginable things… Dirty, aggressive things, things that might get you arrested in certain decades in certain countries. Either the Derek Bailey of psych or the John Abercrombie of raga, or both probably, Bishop fought the bar’s murmurous roar, pulling about as much electricity out of his amp as humanly possible. Riding a pedal tone like a camel through the desert was where he was comfiest, but it was the ballad toward the end that really left an impression; must have been out of a fake book, and I might have figured out the tune if the structure wasn’t so bowlegged and his solo so ‘out.’ But that was the way, and the way led to where it led, which was nowhere, and those of us rapt went right along, straight into the beautiful nothing.
OM didn’t waste too much time following, and after hearing what the subs were capable of during the dub-saturated house music at intermission, I decided to keep a little distance. All for not, for whomever ran sound had Al Cisneros’ bass clipping like a motherfucker while Emil Amos whaled on the ride cymbal bell between bizonkers drum fills. The band fought a weird mix, and the synth guy off to the right seemed like he was falling behind in some spots. But they battled through that too, the same way their songs can feel like epic struggles, finishing strong — OM’s final stroke of raw power was preempted with a beautiful solo section of bass that slithered like a 1-ton snake. The coda was big enough to lift a couple horns from the crowd, and most torsos couldn’t help but rock back and forth, as if everyone’s collective forehead was tied to Cisneros’ tuning pegs like a marionette.
A yawn come 11:30 (am I getting old?), with my blood a few degrees warmer than when I got there, mission still accomplished.
Diamond Terrifier/Megafortress Duo / Nonhorse / Jerry Paper / Noah Wall
Public Assembly; Brooklyn
Upon approaching Public Assembly for my first time, the area is exaltedly commercial — even kitsch commercial — and I was afraid leaving the old PRACTICE! space Zebulon may just ruin the weekly experience. ALSO, this was at 8 p.m. and not 7 p.m. (for future attendees); the place looked like a kitchen’s backdoor at 7 p.m. First up to play was Noah Wall (w/ Jonathan Matthews) and I was digging that these two fellahs were feeling the live show, which hooked me in that vibe, but I would’ve been into their sound about six years ago. One fellah was geeking out on some Moog synths and electronic drum pad, and the other played a few chords through an array of pedals. Like Dylan Ettinger meets Pure X. After, Jerry Paper adorned the stage with a ratty purple luau necklace and dripped a few ROLAND tweaked melodies. When he began singing, the keys and vocals combined were the musical embodiment of Lawrence Jacoby’s office, but totally selling it. My dude Seth Graham then turned to me and said, “I think if a musician or group really feels their art, the audience believes it just as much,” – was juuust thinking that, my duude.
Tim and his grandmother came so I said what-up and axed if she liked Jeremy Paper. Her words: “I want to listen to music, not gyrating.” Nodding at her answer, Nonhorse approached the stage and I mentioned to her how I’ve heard he was a unique live experience. And earnestly, Nonhorse drove a moving collage of sheerness in noise. He dumped out a box of tapes, took two, cut ‘em to bits, took another one a little later, and continued cutting reels like a maniac, fused himself with every machine in front of him (which visually looked exactly like that), and sang into a headphone mic the lyrics (I think) I hate this sound. I turned to Tim’s grandma and she said, “Ehhh, my son used to be really into Grateful Dead,” and I smiled. Nonhorse appropriately and abruptly stopped, thanked everyone, and Tim and his grandmother split.
The last set was Diamond Terrifier/Megafortress Duo, which was quickly organized and began on a dime. Well, their preparation blended the line between sound-check and intro, but when they got rolling, it was crystal glass-shattering sounds. Vibrating everyone’s clothes and filling minds with the sound of a thousand echoing voices. The entirety of the set was that of the moment before pure joy; Diamond Terrifier/Megafortress Duo found that sound in music and has revealed it live. Overall, the most important aspect of this venture, and every PRACTICE! adventure, is that it’s exactly that: PRACTICE! And feeling that rawness live gives me that personal experience that’s potentially better than any refined product could provide. Stepping out to the nearly shut-down/closed commercial area breathed a whole new sense of artistic vision to me too. Until PERFORMANCE!
Ty Segall / Night Beats
Waldorf Hotel; Vancouver, Canada
The Waldorf Hotel is one of the most storied buildings in Vancouver. Built in 1947, the Waldorf was designed by Mercer & Mercer Architects in an Art Moderne style. However, one fateful trip to Honolulu in 1953 changed everything. It was then and there that owner Bob Mills purchased eight original black velvet paintings by Edgar Leeteg.
An unusual character, father of American velvet painting and longtime sufferer of elephantiasis and venereal disease, Leeteg famously said, “My paintings belong in a gin mill, not a museum.” Indeed, that’s the kind of place where most of his paintings ended up, particularly his more risque works. Inspired by Polynesian culture, swept up in the exotica movement, Mills committed the Waldorf to Tiki, creating a Tiki lounge with bamboo paneling, thatched walls, fake palm trees, native drum bar stools, a ceiling painted like the night sky, and careful placing of four Leeteg paintings. The basement restaurant was decorated to suit, and the Waldorf quickly became one of the hottest joints in Vancouver.
Unfortunately, the rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon destroyed exotica in the early 60s, and the Waldorf began a slow decline that would last almost 40 years. Then, in 2010, an unlikely collaboration between musician Thomas Anselmi (Slow, Copyright), restaurateur Ernesto Gomez (Nuba), and architect Scott Cohen (Gastropod, Les Faux Bourgeois) secured a lease with the space, and re-envisioned it as hospitality/entertainment complex. After a three-month renovation, their dream came to fruition.
The renovation established new locations for the noted Lebanese restaurant Nuba and the Barbarella hair salon, and restored the Tiki bar to its former glory, complete with vintage JBL Lansing Hartfields speakers and a sizable vinyl collection. The former basement restaurant was converted to a cabaret for live music. Almost overnight, the Waldorf had once again become a cultural hub, attracting scenesters city wide to its obscure location in the no man’s land between the downtrodden downtown East side and the hippy haven of Commercial Drive, a clash of former opulence and present decay that, ironically, is perfect for seeing a sweaty rock ‘n’ roll show.
On the fateful evening of 12/12/12, Seattle’s Night Beats would take the stage first. Although lead guitarist/vocalist Lee Blackwell looked a bit like a younger, thinner John Belushi, he couldn’t sing as well as the Blues Brother by a country mile. Oddly enough, Blackwell played with the long end of his uncut string laying over the first five frets of his guitar, which seemed telling of their aesthetic. Although they had decent energy, hard-selling flashy, incomprehensible blues-garage riffs, they were a generally sloppy bunch. The hi-hat in drummer James Traeger’s kit fell apart during one track, but he kept tapping the pedal anyway for the rest of the song (likely in an effort to keep his timing), but the rhythm section often came off muddy anyway. To their credit, Night Beats tightened up as they went along, and their style was reasonably well-informed. They could use more practice, though, and they might want to consider warming up beforehand, so they can get some of the roughness out of the way before being put to the test.
Suffice to say, Ty Segall was the reason the Waldorf sold out this evening. Having sold out the same venue in May of the same year, his return to the city and venue had been highly publicized.
Segall would quickly prove the hype substantiated, launching into “Thank God for Sinners” (the opening track from his most recent album Twins), which instantly whipped the crowd into a fevered mosh that nearly devolved into ruthlessness. For some reason, one guy thought it was a good idea to mosh with a lit stick of incense. Seemingly drinkable beers were emptied willy-nilly, as a steady flow of people surged over the crowd, narrowly missing the low lighting of the cabaret. One plucky girl tried surfing, and in the course of her adventure, two different guys belly flopped on her head (she would try again in the encore). Three guys tried to crowd surf at once, nearly taking out half of the pit as they collapsed. Fifteen minutes into their set, in the middle of “My Head Explodes” from Goodbye Bread, a would-be stage diver knocked over Segall’s mic.
Following the mic incident, Segall was compelled to ask the crowd to take it easy. He implored, “Everybody be careful, please. Someone is bleeding already. Please, be careful. She’s okay, but think about it.” The rowdiness couldn’t be capped, though, and the band went with it. Guitarist Charles Moothart put on a party hat someone threw onstage, and later Segall fashioned a red shirt which was flung near him around his head like a bandana, saying it smelled “so fucking good” as he did so.
With longtime Segall collaborator Mikal Cronin turned away at the Canadian border again (the same thing had happened in May), Moothart ended up playing bass for most of the show. There were a couple moments when that didn’t work out. Moothart couldn’t quite get the bass line for “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart” and “Wave Goodbye” from Slaughterhouse, and had to switch for Segall’s lead guitar. Yet, these moments helped bring Segall’s raw talent into greater relief. Moothart is certainly no slouch on guitar, but when Segall plays, there is something intangible, something extra behind it all. Segall has that spark in his play that so few musicians work hard enough to achieve these days. It’s clear from Segall’s Popeye-thick arms that he works hard at what he does.
Granted, Segall doesn’t have the most beautiful voice, but it suits his style. It’s more about the raw passion and ecstatic execution than creating something traditionally beautiful. This notion was clearly demonstrated by the trio’s encore performance of “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath, done fast and loose as Segall played his guitar behind his head for the last half of the track. Indeed, Ty Segall may be one of the world’s last great rock ‘n’ roll performers.