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Concert Review: Beats Antique

My concert review of Beats Antique for The Vinyl District

On Wednesday, the 9:30 Club opened its doors to the dubby, world-music-fusion sounds of Beats Antique.
David Satori and Tommy Cappel (who grew up in Springfield and gave a shoutout to his Mom, who was in attendance) provided a seamless sonic tapestry that was refreshingly organic despite the band’s seemingly electronic roots. With surprisingly minimal knob-twiddling and laptop-fidgeting, both spent a lot of time percussively propelling the show forward, with the flourishes of David’s banjo and violin-playing and a French saxophonist blending into the mix.
DJ Laura Low opened for the band, with a lackluster poppy-dubstep-by-the-numbers set that showcased why Skrillex has a lot to answer for and was especially bad following the brilliant Forward Festival this past weekend. Her dubstep remixes of M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” and even the Cranberries’ “Zombie” were downright cringe-inducing and her own amped-up demeanor was hardly contagious.

And speaking of the audience, there was a heavy belly [dancing-clad] contingent, along with the well-dreaded Burning Man cohort. In other words, there was plenty of hair-tossing about [“I whip my hair back and forth, real or not”], but more on that later.
The show opened with “The Porch” from the band’s 2011 album Elektrafone, and to their credit, Beats Antique’s musicianship is nigh perfect—the songs unfurled in a languid yet sonically-sound fashion and none of the usual concert-muddiness problem was present. They also played “Alto” and “Siren Song” from Elektrafone, as well as debuting a new more dubstep-leaning song, which was very well-received by the crowd.

The band clearly has a keen sense of showmanship; their roots in San Francisco’s performance art scene and their work on the music for the Bellydance Superstars (with whom Zoe Jakes dances) have influenced the stage show, which is very much carnival/sideshow-esque in its aesthetic.
Oddly enough, however, raucous and boisterous are not exactly words I would use to describe the show last night—despite the consummate musicianship and the fact that it very quickly started to sound like one long jam session as the songs started to meld into each other, it lacked a certain kind of playfulness and just general elan. In other words, this wasn’t a Balkan Beat Box show and definitely not an Eastern-European wedding (despite the band’s dabbling in the Roma/Bulgarian brass elements). In other words, it was oddly sedate. Yes, there was some dancing in the crowd, but I saw more at the Little Dragon show.

And speaking of dancing, Zoe Jakes, a renowned tribal belly dancer who is considered part of the band, performed almost throughout the entire show. Some of Jakes’ routines were truly beautiful, such as in the burlesque-influenced jazz dance she performed with giant feather fans, or the skeleton-Mexican-Day-of-the-Dead-like routine during “Beauty Beats.”
At other times, her style, which is essentially a mix of popping-and-locking (think breakdance) and some of the shimmies and hip and shoulder isolations from belly dance, is downright snooze-inducing when viewed for an hour and a half. Jakes’ dancing relies far too much on her wildly tossing her hair about, and the routines where she performed with another belly dancer were out-of-sync enough to make a pre-teen dance teacher cry. No doubt Jakes is a hard-working, seasoned performer… As to whether it is the kind of performance one could watch for extended periods of time is a matter of viewer preference.
Beats Antique’s stage presentation is definitely visually unique and showcases their knack for showmanship. Musically, the band’s palette of glitch, dub, and Middle Eastern and brass motifs is masterfully presented in their live show.

Little Dragon Concert Review

My review of the Little Dragon Concert, 10/29

Saturday’s sold-out Little Dragon show at the 9:30 Club was an exuberant, percussion-propelled, lush feast for the senses—a ritual union, if you will, presided over by the high priestess of unbridled soul, Yukimi Nagano.

The band and the crowd swelled with a riotous, jubilant energy that is so rare to see at most concerts. Yukimi Nagano literally bounded about the stage in her impossibly adorable, pixie-sprightly way, cutely bantering, dancing even more than the crowd, and contributing to the percussion-heavy sound with her tambourine and drum pad-playing.

One could hardly imagine a more unlikely candidate for a “jam band” than an electro-soul-downtempo outfit, yet Little Dragon’s show had a funky, beat-happy sensibility that was positively soul-stirring and authentically organic in its pure celebration of just playing for an audience. It’s through this dogged dedication to their live show that Little Dragon has built such a huge following, without a “big fancy record label,” as Nagano put it.

Nagano has lent her unique vocals to a number of tracks, including the Gorillaz’ “Empire Ants” and “To Binge,” SBTRKT’s “Wildfire,” and DJ Shadow’s new “Scale It Back.” From her old days in singing for downtempo-neo jazz band Koop (whose hit single “Waltz For Koop” appears on almost all chillout compilations), Nagano has a knack for infusing the songs with a soulful vibrato that keeps the ears guessing and sets her apart from other figure-head female vocalists—she is a musician in every sense of the word. She was definitely the epicenter of the show and she did it with an effortless and impossibly infectious flair.

Little Dragon played the ebullient title track “Ritual Union” off the new album, as well “Little Man,” and the dubsteppy-glitchy “Precious.” There were also tracks off their previous two releases including “Feather,” “My Step,” “Never Never,” and “After The Rain.” Interspersed with occasional jam sessions, the band stayed away from their more atmospheric, melancholic tunes and kept the tempo up and the dance sensibility more prominent. Only their final song “Twice” hinted at their more somber material, and Yukimi’s vocals took on an ethereal, almost other-worldly quality.

In a word, the show was the perfect embodiment of a band-crowd synergy that builds and truly doesn’t leave an unmoved soul or body in the crowd.

Ladytron Concert Review

My review of the Ladytron show on October 11, 2011 at the 9:30 Club for Brightest Young Things:

Liverpool-based Ladytron’s electrifying show at the 9:30 Club was exactly what one would expect from a band that literally started the electroclash movement and heavily influenced an entire generation of bands like Empire Of The Sun, Holy Ghost, Royksopp, Yelle, and Client, to name a few…and practically the entirely neo-electro movement, in truth. It would not be an exaggeration to put Ladytron’s legacy near New Order’s—you know you have longevity in the flash-in-pan electro scene when you can release a greatest hits album of ten years, like Ladytron has. While some of their contemporaries like Miss Kittin and Felix Da Housecat and the electroclash movement as a whole lost its luster in the pop-music zeitgeist, Ladytron continued their reign by consistently putting out excellent albums. A decade-long career and five stellar album releases later, Ladytron proved equally relevant and original [stodgy “forefather” label be damned] as when they first introduced their synth-driven electropop sound.
Since the days of Kraftwerk, it is no big secret that it’s pretty hard to make knob-twiddling and keyboard-button-pushing sexy or particularly thrilling live—it’s the nature of the beast when it comes to electronica. Ladytron’s live show, however, was a really interesting mix of light and well…magic. The band and a well-executed light show were the only components yet they proved more than ample. Lead vocalist Helen Marnie was channeling some sort of a Princess Leia-meet choirgirl-meet nun white get-up, while Mira Aroyo resembled a beautiful porcelain doll. The combined effect was something best described as “demure/pneumatic babydoll chique.” They weren’t going for “sexy” but it was mannequin hot nevertheless—thrilling you with chillness?
The band opened with “Ghosts,” “International Dateline” [whose refrain, “International dateline; let’s end it here” was particularly modern and apropos in its sentiment] and with a new song called “Mirage” off their September-released album, Gravity The Seducer. Helen Marnie was doing the majority of the vocals, in a Jane Birkin-esque lilt, which isn’t always the case on their albums where the two vocalist share in their efforts. It wasn’t until “True Mathematics” that Mira Aroyo stepped away from her very concerted synth-operating duties to deliver an adorably-cute Bulgarian nursery-rhyme vocal on the song. As a fellow countrywoman, there is no doubt that Mira is, by FAR, the coolest and greatest Bulgarian export, period—and no, don’t groan about how there are no other Bulgarian exports! It is especially endearing that so many of the Bulgarian lyrics she sings are all either snippets from old folk rhymes or are very haiku-esque and sparse, yet she delivers them in this brilliant stern-detached-school-marm-way that works so perfectly. No wonder the Bulgarian contingent in the audience last night chanted, “Mira, ti si super!” [Mira, you are the best!].
The energy continued to build with Ladytron’s performance of their hits—“Runaway,” “Ace Of Hz” [both off their more recent releases], “Discotraxx,” and “Seventeen.” The song’s “They only want you when you are 17, when you are 21, you are no fun,” was a cheeky commentary on the length of the pop culture attention span nowadays. They also performed “White Elephant” off the new album and “Little Black Angel” from their greatest hits album. The show ended with a raucous performance of “Destroy Everything You Touch” that was especially apropos—sonic destruction of awesomeness abounded.
The show was a testament to what has kept Ladytron going through an entire decade with such sustained success—their music might be machine-made but it has always remained organic and melodic despite its method of creation. While knob-twiddling and button-pushing has become the norm, they’ve always kept their hand on the human pulse.