02.15.11 | Summit Music Hall
It would be easy for any electronic artist to be incredibly boring live no matter the quality of the material. With this in mind, Jack Dangers and Benjamin Stokes of Meat Beat Manifesto make up for any possible visual shortcomings with one of the richest and most varied, but never completely random, video streams for each song ever conceived. Each clip is part of a dense, constantly shifting series of images -- some lingering, some not, and most manipulated in terms of color and opacity -- created by the videographers or swiped from a wide range of movies. While the pace of the videos made for some kind of short-attention-span theater, the collection of images complemented the songs themselves in myriad ways.
Much of the material came from the band's most recent album, 2010's Answers Come in Dreams, but Dangers and Stokes drew liberally from all across the project's career, even going at least as far back as "Helter Skelter" (not to be confused with The Beatles song), from 1990's 99%. One of the most impressive numbers came in the last third of the set or so, when a few different drummers came on the screen and appeared to contribute separate drum tracks.
The screen split at some point, so all of the percussionists could be seen weaving together a driving yet complex rhythm, like jazz musicians being pulled together to make the kind of music they never would if left to their own devices -- all within the context of an experimental electronic dance song of sorts.
To catalogue the sheer barrage of imagery that assaulted us alongside the music would take longer than anyone would care to read in a show review. However, cleverly woven into the original imagery were scenes from A Clockwork Orange, Scanners, The Howling and Die Hard, all used to create a visual, non-verbal cognate of the music.
One of the best involved Alan Rickman's character from Die Hard falling next to images of various movie characters falling from a great height. Another, the image of Marshall Applewhite, leader of Heaven's Gate, the cult that believed an alien spacecraft was in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet, spouted off samples of the leader's rhetoric.
"She's Unreal" got a darker treatment than the original, and "Radio Babylon" had one of the more visually striking videos of an already impressive show, with images of various reggae performers emoting, including one who looked to be wearing a white turban with dark stripes, eyes wild. "Acid Again" came off like a remix better than the original, with the early middle preceding the intro.
The highlight of the evening came when Dangers got on the mike and let loose during "Edge of No Control," establishing himself as a rapper of no mean ability. Also unforgettably visceral was "Penultimate Bass Test," which began after Dangers told us he would conduct a test of the bass of the room. The Summit passed that test with only the stage rattle, once the bass got so incredibly thick that it started to affect breathing.
Another high moment came when Stokes and Dangers stopped the music for a second and Stokes rewound both the video and the audio in real time and cut back into the song like some vinyl scratching with every element of the performance. After a little over an hour and a half, Meat Beat Manifesto was done, and not for a moment did the show get boring.
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Somewhere between the band's truly diverse sounds -- a combination of organic-sounding electronic bass and percussion, and entrancing rhythms and a perfectly matched video accompaniment -- Meat Beat showed us exactly how you can pull off complicated electronic compositions played mostly live and make it intense and visceral.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Been wanting to see Meat Beat for years and wasn't disappointed. Random Detail: Members of various experimental music bands were in attendance at the show, including people from Blackcell, Little Fyodor and the Inactivists. By the Way: Answers Come in Dreams, the project's latest release, is more stripped down than some earlier albums, but innovative and excellent as well.