Props to Liars for seeing fit to bring a straight-up noise artist -- and a good one -- as an opening act. Through his solo work and his numerous collaborations with heavyweights like Sunn O))), Wolf Eyes, and Merzbow, John Wiese has become one of the noise world's key figures, and while he offered zero visual spectacle, seated as he was behind a laptop and a mixer, his horror-soundtrack set, with its literally floor-shaking subsonic rumbles and underwater murk, made for a great appetizer for Liars's distinctly creepy rock and roll.
I feel a bit silly saying this, but the word that keeps popping into my head when I think of Liars is "Satanic." In a way that would make many metal bands jealous, and that hasn't been more credibly put across by a band since, oh, Black Sabbath, Liars have managed to marry genuinely unsettling, dread atmosphere with fist-pumping bombast and tongue-in-cheek (but sometimes not) menace, creating music that's Satanic in the best rock-and-roll sense: Evil, but all in good fun.
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It helps that frontman Angus Andrew could credibly play the Dark Prince himself, or at least a cartoon version of him, so charismatic and brutishly sexy is he. Preceded on stage by his bandmates, who began unlikely set opener "A Visit From Drum," the lanky, disheveled Aussie needed to do nothing more than saunter out of the wings, wearing his mischievous grin, and say "Hell-lo Den-vahhh!" in that irresistible accent to have all eyes locked on him for the next 75 minutes.
The band, augmented by a bassist and an additional guitarist whose names I didn't catch, tended to favor fantastically smart-dumb anthems like "Plaster Casts of Everything," "Freak Out," and "The Overachievers," all of which caused pits to break out on the Bluebird floor and were immensely satisfying. But even the less immediate material worked just as well: "Proud Evolution," which slowly drags itself into a slinky Krautrock shuffle on record, became stompier and even dancier, eliciting handclaps from the audience. And the majestic "Scissor," probably the band's best song, managed to feel even grander than on record, despite missing the harmonized vocals and chamber-music flourishes. Only beautiful Drum's Not Dead closer "The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack" felt a little out of place, coming as it did in the middle of the set and getting a somewhat rote treatment.
Andrew remained mesmerizing throughout, whether wagging his Neanderthal face back and forth and holding his freakishly long arms out, or jabbing at the crowd with his finger, or climbing on the drum riser while giving us that Kubrick stare of his, looking like he might calmly maul drummer Julian Gross. When the core trio came back for the encore, Andrew walked out from the wings with a doofy grin and his arms way out with two thumbs up, and then walked across the stage like that for a solid twenty seconds, which doesn't sound all that interesting but was hilarious to watch. And he even treated us to a chest shimmy during traditional closer "Broken Witch." The man is a fantastic ham, and he kept me smiling for the entire show. He and his band can possess me any time.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: The Liars show at the hi-dive in 2006 was probably the best show I've ever seen. Almost life-changing. I've been a devotee ever since. Random Detail: Fell's Josh Wambeke stood right behind me for most of the show. By the Way: Did anybody catch what that cover song was they played? It sounded familiar, but it was so buried in screeching guitar overtones (not like I'm complaining; it sounded glorious) that I couldn't quite pick it out.