The Legendary Pink Dots Tuesday, October 21, 2008 Bluebird Theater Better Than: Anything that pretends it’s dark and intense but isn’t.
Nearly thirty years into its career, the Legendary Pink Dots are still among the most unique and evolving bands to have come out of art and psychedelic rock movements of the ’60s and ’70s. The band took the stage with little fanfare, which was a bit surprising since the hallmark of the group’s music is a measured melodrama punctuated by waves of passionate flourishes. With his black robe and dark pink scarf draped over one shoulder and around his neck, Edward Ka-Spel looked like a high priest for an occult sect of the future, while Phil Knight came out to his synthesizers like a combination high profile record producer and mad scientist and Niels van Hoorn appeared to have stepped out of an episode of Max Headroom, with a starkly patterned black and white suite with squares all over. Only Martin de Kleer looked like he could be in any other classic band of his era.
The Dots opened with a quiet, ethereal tune that evolved into a madrigal with the instruments serving as the choral voices accompanying Ka-Spel’s wizardly gestures and oddly penetrating voice. It reminded me of the kind of music you might hear during a dream sequence in The Prisoner — a sort of psychedelic sidebar mini-series companion to “Secret Agent Man.” With the second song, van Hoorn switched to flute and Ka-Spel and Knight triggered electronic cognates to middle eastern instruments. Though the band’s aesthetic is reminiscent of the renaissance-era, its execution of its sounds had deceptively simple jazz structures.
Throughout the show, van Hoorn engaged various members of the audience near the stage with in-your-face notes from his sax. At one point during the set, he left the stage with a wireless rig and a light inside the bell of his instrument and walked around the crowd. To accent points in the song, he would switch on the bright light and play facing the stage with the rest of us. These gestures reinforced the impression that the band is not just brilliantly atmospheric and moody but also confrontational. This isn’t the kind of music that sits in the background; it seeps into the psyche and highlighted the shadowy regions most shy away from but shouldn’t.
After an eight-song set of dizzying heights and cathartic emotional waves, the Dots left the stage but were encouraged to come back for two encores, closing with “Fifteen Flies in the Marmalade”
-- Tom Murphy
Personal Bias: I have a pronounced affinity for all the rock bands out of Manchester from 1977 to now. Random Detail: I ran into former Bedraggled bass player Adam Avery at the show. By the Way: Niels van Hoorn’s MIDI wind controller is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen (or heard) on stage.