Gang Gang Dance, Marnie Stern, Pictureplane and Slight Harp (with members of Modern Witch) Friday, November 7, 2008 Larimer Lounge Better Than: Shows at which all the bands are staffed entirely by men.
I arrived at the Larimer Lounge Friday night and walked past the merch booth, where I found Marnie Stern discussing her setlist with drummer Jim Sykes and writing it down with a red marker on the back of a T-shirt. Sykes suggested a song.
Stern: “No, I don’t know that one.” Sykes: “Man, I am totally gonna actually wear this!”
Local act Slight Harp opened the show, joined by the members of also-local Modern Witch. The collaborators played a short set of Kranky-style drone-pop, utilizing various combinations of guitar, accordion, MicroKorg, drums, and Modern Witch’s Kristy Fenton’s vocals. I’m going to guess that most of it was improvised, or at least unrehearsed, if only because the players had a bit of trouble staying together at times, especially when playing percussion instruments. Still, though, the two bands were a good opening for a bill that was stylistically all over the place.
After that set, I went over and introduced myself to Marnie Stern.
“Hi, I’m Kyle; we spoke last week.”
“Hi, Kyle!” she said, shaking my hand vigorously. “I’m drunk.”
“How drunk are you usually when you play shows?”
“A little drunk. But now I’m really drunk. We’ve been here a really long time, and we’ve just been drinking the whole time. I’m kinda tired.”
The last time I had seen Travis Egedy (who performs as Pictureplane) perform was about a year ago, when he opened for Black Dice and had some serious technical difficulties. Other than a mike that occasionally cut out, he had no such problems Friday night; his set was the most polished and confident I’ve seen from him yet. His is dance music that’s completely indifferent to the typical division between house, with its insistent 4/4, and hip-hop, with its less predictable, more syncopated tendencies; just by taking a banging 4/4 and adding a snare hit on three, as he did with “Trance Doll,” he effortlessly bridged the two forms. And got everybody dancing. As usual, he performed on the floor in front of the stage; a couple songs in, one woman got on the stage and started dancing. Egedy thanked her for her efforts, and then several more people — including Ms. Stern — joined her for the rest of the set, and thus became part of the show.
Thankfully, Marnie Stern’s inebriation didn’t seem to affect her performance too much; her voice did strain a bit against high notes, but otherwise she and her band performed flawlessly. Stern’s guitar parts are intricate enough that I wasn’t sure how only two guitarists could possibly cover them all in a live context, but they did, with Stern handling the flashy finger-tapping parts and Mark Shippy taking care of the underlying chords. Similarly, I was a bit worried about Jim Sykes’s ability to handle Zach Hill’s ludicrously manic drum parts, but he too stepped up; if the beats were simplified at all, it wasn’t by much. And he did indeed wear the T-shirt with the setlist, which necessitated him getting up and turning around after most of the songs so Stern could see what was next. It was quite charming.
Charming is a good word for Stern in general; her appeal comes not only from her gender and good looks — a sticky issue in a rock world in which about 95 percent of both musicians and critics are male — or her chops, but also from her guilelessness, her geekiness, her lack of concern with being cool. During the chanted beginning to “Prime,” to which she added handclaps, she interrupted the lyrics to plead, “Come on, everybody, clap!” as though she was really sad that they weren’t already. After another song, she took a drink of beer and said, “Woo-hoo! Now we’re getting this party started!” It was adorable.
Gang Gang Dance, on the other hand, is so effortlessly cool that the group apparently doesn’t feel the need to promote its excellent new album, Saint Dymphna. Only two Dymphna tracks (“Vacuum” and “House Jam”) showed up in the band’s set, which was kind of a bummer, because I was looking forward to hearing more of those songs performed. That aside, however, the set was perfectly enjoyable.
I’m far from the first to point out that the group seems to be taking the “Dance” part of its name more literally these days, but that emphasis on groove — which has always been present in the band’s music, but just a bit more latent — came through especially strong in performance. While the group’s set was just as improvisatory as usual, the band made essentially zero detours into the freeform ambience and noise for which it’s often known, sticking instead to lots of drums.
Frontwoman Lizzi Bougatsos—who, in her trademark oversized T-shirt and random braids, is every bit as mysterious and unconventionally beautiful as Marnie Stern is geeky and cute — played auxiliary percussion any time she wasn’t singing, and even if the act didn’t have everyone dancing quite like Pictureplane did, it definitely had them moving.
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Among the ever-growing numbers of tribalist noise-rockers, Gang Gang Dance is one of exceedingly few to actually achieve the sense of ritual, of otherworldliness, that many of them seem to be going for; accordingly, the outfit’s set wasn’t so much a dance party as it was a sort of bizarre — but fun — ceremony, and the group certainly held this spectator entranced.
-- Kyle Smith
Personal Bias: Hot chicks that front bands are awesome. And I say that both as a straight male with all attendant urges and as a music fan who finds it a genuine shame that there aren’t more women in the rock world. I can’t deny the former, but I do want to emphasize the latter. I lack both the space and the gender-studies chops to say more, but I wanted to say that much. Random Detail: Pictureplane opened Gang Gang Dance’s last appearance here, as did Marnie Stern’s hero, Mick Barr, who performed as Ocrilim. By The Way: Well, this might be more of a “Personal Bias” thing, but I love performances, like Gang Gang Dance’s, in which songs flow into each other with no breaks.