One of the most vividly enduring memories of last night's Plaid show at the Bluebird Theater came at the end of the show, when the band performed "At Last." The video projected on the screen and the group itself made it seem like we had all entered some kind of alternate universe peopled with odd animated creatures and shifting landscapes. Even more than during the rest of the show, the richness of color augmented the experience of what was already one of the best tracks from
. The subtle bass accents coursed through the audience in counterpoint to synth lines, arpeggiated in an elegant staccato rhythm with the overaching robotic female vocals. It was like the sonic equivalent of an unexpectedly luminous white cloud against an overcast night sky: moving and powerful, yet soothing.
Plaid came on with little fanfare. In fact, at first it was difficult to tell if it was indeed the bandmembers taking their places or just guys checking the equipment before the set. But as the lights were dimmed, Andy Turner and Ed Handley acknowledged the crowd, and the echoing plinks and intermittent chime sounds at the beginning of "35 Summers" -- with its haunting video with the octopus woman projected onto a screen in the background -- ushered in roughly ninety minutes of a remarkable live electronic performance.
"Eye Robot" followed "35 Summers" and sounded like a long-lost industrial dance track done right and set to a down-tempo cadence. Throughout the show, the lights were often slow, broad lightning strikes of various colors or circles that evolved, split off, multiplied, appeared alone or wandered about. Musically, the songs were often repetitive, but in a way that allowed for subtle changes in tone, pacing, volume and intensity over the course of each composition.
Plaid also never seemed to really recycle an idea, and, as a kind of companion to this, the light show was very different for each song -- not unusual, considering that the music was linked to the controls for the lighting rig and triggered accordingly. But there were also images of odd robotic creatures, including, at one point, a stylized skull on the screen on various songs.
Toward the end, one of the songs featured a backdrop of a jet leaving a contrail while red banks of lights were superimposed over the top on and off. Before the end of the set, a bright, polymorphic vortex of an image swept over the band and the screen, giving the illusion of three dimensional movement. After the fantastic performance of "At Last," the members of Plaid left the stage for a few moments, but they came back on for "Eyen" when the enthusiastic crowd cheered for one more.
As they played the song, an elaborate and beautifully eerie video projection played in black and white, evoking the sensation of looking out a kind of cathedral window onto a village and then into a mountain tunnel beyond to a secret underworld, where people -- and parts of people -- seem to have been harvested for some nefarious purpose. As perspective shifted back out to the cathedral window, the entire clip turned into a black and white spiral pattern that yielded a color pinwheel that was out of focus and spilled forth color and drew it back in and then covered the screen in a quadrant of color while turning clockwise. If you're going to end your set on such an odd, yet gorgeous, visual, it may as well be to one of your best songs.
Before Plaid's highly visual set, Water Babys, a duo of two guys who both played guitar and synths over computerized beats, offered up a set that was the complete opposite of the headliners. It was a whole lot of leaning over laptops and sending out music with little in the way of performance and no visual element to accompany or enhance the music. When performers do this sort of thing, it tends to undermine the effect of the music.
The songs Water Babys played were good, kind of a sunny electro pop with soul and R&B undertones. Later in the set, one of the guys sang live vocals instead of pre-recorded ones previously and that made a world of difference. In the future if these guys mix that up a lot more, especially in a larger stage like the Bluebird's, it will make their set more engaging. The music was practically begging for a visual element in the vein of Alexis Gideon. After the show, I ran across the band's coloring book/album download package and simply had to get one. It's rare anyone does anything that creative with their releases around here, and it's refreshing to see and in this case, highly recommended.
What can you say about Hollidayrain, the show's opener? Hollidayrain is a guy with a laptop and a turntable that seemed to be some kind of MIDI-controller for Ableton or Logic or whatever software he was using. The music was reminiscent of '90s-era trance or a poppier end of house music in general. Sreyas Krishnan is to be commended for really putting a lot of energy into quite a long performance (over an hour). And he didn't seem phony trying to pump up the crowd. It was basically a live DJ set with original -- or at least mostly original material -- that, at times, recalled late '90s Faithless tracks, only uplifting rather than moody and dark.
It was pleasant enough for twenty minutes to a half-hour but after that it just started to wear on us. The guy's talented, no doubt about it, but the variety wasn't there, and we've heard these DJ techniques ad infinitum that really get some people who live for that stuff going. But for those of us -- and there were more than a few at this show -- who would have preferred something more, as one person put it, "abstract" than this, the set went on entirely too long. When you're an opening act people have never heard of, and you have nothing but you and your computerized rig on stage, going on for over an hour is ill advised.
Personal Bias: I've been wanting a long time to see one of the classic bands from the early days of Warp Records, and Plaid did not disappoint. Random Detail: Ran into Malgorzata Wacht from The Siren Project at the show, as well as Chris Bullock of Tall City, Charles Ballas of Gemini Trajectory and Jason Horodyski from Maudlin Magpie. By the Way: Scintilli is as good as anything Plaid has put out yet, which is to say great.
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