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Monday, October 29, 2012

Synth Week (Or the Week my Wife Questioned my Sexuality)

About four songs into Grimes set last night at Bowery Ballroom my wife politely leaned over to me and whispered "You have to be a little bi, right?"

Ouch.

You can't be a little gay, or a little bi, right?  And if you are bi isn't that just another way of saying gay? It's like saying hipster, or experimental college phase,  or suburban gay.   But it is gay nonetheless.

So let me premise by saying by each and every account I am a straight man.  Be out and proud I say and I will support you 110%.   Gay marriage is as great (and flawed) as straight marriage.  But I draw the line at skinny jeans and ain't no way men turn me on.

But what is the stance on watching (and enjoying Project Runway and Top Chef?!)  I cancel that out with a love of baseball, football and college basketball, don't I?

Flannel shirts can go either way I suppose.  But I loathe shopping for clothes.

And where do you stand on synthesizers??  I mean, for someone who grew up in the 80s isn't the appreciation of synths my birth right?

New Order.  Human League.  Thomas Dolby.  Thompson Twins.  Depeche Mode.  Real Life.  Icicle Works.  INXS.  Those are just a few that come to mind.  Who am I missing?

And today the mighty synth is back and bigger than ever.  Naked And the Famous, Foster the People, Cut/Copy, M83, Passion Pit, The Sounds, Gotye XX, Walk the Moon to name a few. There are plenty more, like 2 the 2 acts I saw last week.

Tuesday 10.23 American/Swedish act Miike Snow made their Wellmont Theatre debut.  Andrew Wyatt, leader and central figure for the band, is a strong ringleader.  And this is something of a circus.

Front stage is positioned as some sort of spaceship contril room.  Synths face each other stage left and right and light up like a Star Trek set piece.  Think Wrath of Khan, not the tv series.

The only thing distinguishing them from a dj set is live percussion, which they employ quite effectively.  The drum kit gives the illusion of a rock show, even if it is secondary to the proceedings.  This is a synth act.  Swede's Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg were/are a formidable songwriting and producing act without Wyatt.  They won a Grammy for the Britney Spears song "Toxic."

With Wyatt they spin/play/program the beats and allow him enough freedom to act them out.  His voice and their harmonies breathe a toe tapping energy to the live show.

This is as close to a Jersey club as I am ever gonna get.  Even though the place was very quiet (Tuesday night show in NJ soon after they played NYC was ambitious- couldn't have been 1000 people there) those in attendance enjoyed the production.

Wyatt is confident and charismatic.  The Swedes are animated and engaging.  And the hooks, oh the hooks.  ""Paddling Out"" and "Silvia" have earned their rightful place in the synth canon.

Make no mistake, this is as much theatre as it is music.  Lots of the music has been sampled, manipulated on computer and played like your favorite mix tape.

M83 played Wellmont a few weeks prior and absolutely killed it.  Maybe they set the bar too high because Miike Snow left me slightly disappointed.  The small crowd was a little soft too.  Tuesday nights are a challenging night to bring the high energy.  These boys have been touring for like 30 years consecutively too.  That cannot help.  Good stuff for sure, but not life changing.

Which can be also be said of Canadian toddler Claire Boucher, nee Grimes.  We caught her at Bowery Ballroom 10.27.12  performing one of 4 (!!!) sold out NYC shows.   Truth told she is 24 years old.  Tastemaker magazine has called her and her music "as an alien love child of Aphex Twin and Abba."  She played Enya before taking stage.  The set consisted of 3 keyboards and 3 floral covered microphone stands.

It is dream pop.  It is dark wave.  Dark ambient.  Industrial.  Experimental.

The lighting is an integral component as well as Grimes pixie voice and meek, ethereal stage presence.  It was Halloween weekend in NYC too so the kids were all in costumes.  Or were they??

The Grimes set is all synths and moody, mystic vocals.  Boucher can sing.  Her voice brings Julee Cruise to mind.  Does anyone remember Cruise and her work with Angelo Badalementi for David Lynch?  Her look is an amalgam of Kate Bush, Sinead O Connor and Karmin.

What puzzles me most is the lack of live percussion.  It makes the whole event seem MORE theatre than concert.  It was also an issue with Sleigh Bells's show earlier this year.

The whole thing seems contrived.  Do we need the mere appearance of the keyboards.  Is it the same show with the lights and Grimes singing alone on stage?  Probably.

Maybe I'm a bit old for the scene.  Maybe more specifically, I'm no longer taking the drugs required to fully engage with this type of artist.

It plays much better on a lazy Monday afternoon stranded due to a Hurricane.  Pop in the dreamy soundtrack to mellow and let it be.

Live, in front of an under appreciating bunch of twerps, is quite different.  She came on closer to 11:30 too which was annoying too.  Her openers were off stage around 10:45 and let's be honest it does not take much to set her up.  Find an outlet and plug in keyboards.


Thankfully we were able to see Futurebirds earlier in the evening.  They are a guitar band from Athens, Georgia.  Lots of guitar in fact, including a pedal steel.  Sorry, pedal steel is my kryptonite and with the Futurebirds it's pretty darn good.  They were opening up for trendy and buzz worthy band Heartless Bastards.  Their set and stage presence/demeanor were both likable to say the least.  

The guitars help with my heterosexual credibility don't they?  Can I keep my straight card?

Or as a few friends suggested my card may be either a) missing or b) the mere mention of straight card calls for immediate removal of it.

Judge all you want.  More synths shows are on the horizon.  I'm comfortable with it.  Maybe if you aren't you are the one who should be questioning yourself.  ;-)

Uh oh, an emoticon.  Back to square one.  Admitting the problem is step one.



Futurebirds Irving Plaza 10.27.12





Full head dress and feather cape for Halloween.  All I could think of was how warm that must be.






Grimes Bowery Ballroom 10.27.12

Just could not get a decent picture at this one.  Might be time to upgrade phone.  Samsung or Iphone?










Miike Snow Wellmont 10.22.12





They came on stage with creepy Eyes Wide Shut masks on.  Totally cool.



If Eminem were a synth loving, emo singer he might look like Andrew Wyatt







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