Matmos Tuesday, July 15, 2008 Boulder Theater, Boulder Better Than: Just about any other electronic show I've seen.
Balloons. Last night, the Boulder Theater was all about the balloons.
I arrived just as Lexington, Kentucky-based openers Offthesky started its set. Accompanying the outfit’s de rigueur abstract video projection was a team of painters hard at work on a large canvas in the center of the stage, ringed with balloons. As the band—a drummer and a guy manipulating electronics and playing guitar—made its way through its unbroken performance, shifting from glitchy downtempo to crunchy, scratchy almost-noise to backbeat-heavy dream-pop and back again, a sort of onion-shaped orb began to take shape on the canvas.
Near the end of Offthesky’s set, one of the bandmembers blew up a balloon and slowly let the air out into a microphone, which was such a wonderfully primal noisemaking strategy that I wondered why I’d never seen a band do it before. After doing this a few times, he blew up the balloon again and let it fly at the painters. Finally, when the set was finished, everyone took pins and popped all the balloons.
After the set, I walked up to the stage to get a better look at the finished, somewhat abstract painting and noticed that it was (what else?) a hot-air balloon. Only then did it occur to me, smart one that I am, that all this balloonery might somehow be meant to tie in with the headliners, Matmos, whose latest album is titled Supreme Balloon.
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Mystery solved, I wandered over to take a look at Matmos’s setup, wondering what these mad scientists might have brought. It’s a bit of a shame, I thought briefly, that I’m not seeing the guys touring behind one of their more musique concrete-oriented albums — I get visions of them sound-checking cow colons, liposuction vacuums, snails, semen… But alas, this time out, the act didn’t even bring any of the vintage analog synthesizers so lovingly featured on Balloon. As I was about to discover, they won’t be missed at all.
About then, the lights went dark and nothing happened for several seconds. Then the red dots of a couple laser pointers started flickering about on stage, accompanied by some almost-rhythmic bloops. As bloops got more frequent and started changing pitch, I noticed people turning around, so I turned around to see Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt standing back in the crowd, pointing flashlights and laser pointers at a little box right in front of me—a light-sensitive theremin. They walked through the crowd until they were standing on either side of me, waving their lights at the theremin, making it pulse and whir and squeal. Once we were all sufficiently wowed, Daniel, Schmidt and a third member whom Schmidt later referred to as Jay got on stage and proceeded to wow us much, much more.
The members of Matmos have a reputation for being somewhat crazy on stage, but they kept the absurdity mostly to a minimum last night, as was perhaps appropriate for a set focusing on material from their relatively conventional new album. The act opened with a noisy sound collage, in which Daniel — wearing an oversized shirt with balloons printed on it, by the way — alternately played the triangle and held up his hands in a triangle, the one overtly theatrical gesture they allowed themselves.
After that, the group segued into the bouncy Supreme Balloon material, playing songs like “Rainbow Flag” and “Polychords” in somewhat altered form, often stretched out and made noisier. As promised, material from 1999 album The West showed up, in the form of a long jam which featured Schmidt on acoustic guitar, first picking it, then jerking a slide all around it, then finally prying maniacally at the strings as though he were trying either to rip them off or to dig inside the guitar’s neck. Matmos then closed its main set with the epic Krautrock homage “Supreme Balloon,” with Daniel taking the last fading pieces of it, playing on little portable, toylike noisemakers, and carried them through the crowd. The band returned after the briefest of pauses with another improvisation, this time featuring Schmidt doing all manner of things to a miniature gong.
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At one point, Matmos thanked promoters Communikey for making the show — its first performance in the area — possible. (This interlude, by the way, included one of the best moments of audience-performer banter I’ve ever seen: Daniel held up a yodeling pickle — yes, a yodeling pickle — that the Communikey folks had given the group, and a woman asked, “Is that a dildo?” “It is now,” he replied, and handed it to her.)
Matmos is the kind of band that very rarely makes it to cities like ours, and that, frankly, is a damn shame, because it really is one of the leading lights in the world of experimental electronic music. It truly was a privilege to see the outfit perform.
-- Kyle Smith
Personal Bias: What can I say? Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast is one of my favorite electronic albums ever, and I have a mild gear fetish, so I was hoping, though not necessarily expecting, to see the old Arp and Roland synths they've been using lately. Random Detail: Jay had one of the prettiest effects-pedal boxes I've ever seen. It was all black and chrome -- veeerrry shiny. By the Way: Drew Daniel wears elf shoes. Or at least he did last night.