Er, yes, well, we do have quite a bit of catching up to do since the Big Blog Crash of '06.
Magik Markers get sketchy at ArthurFest, LA, in 2005. Credit: Kimberly Chun
First off, wow, Magik Markers certainly drank dat kosmic Kool-Aid last night, July 6, at the Hemlock Tavern, didn't they? I went with my pal who's been psychic since birth, reads animals' pea-brains, and is currently taking a trance-medium class -- and she swears that the MM's magnetic cutie-pie vocalist Elisa Ambrogio is working with three beings -- WITHOUT EYES, mind you (Did we need that detail? TMI!) -- when she performs. Hey, different strokes, y'all -- some kick back with a six-pack; others go for the eyeless, fleshless variations on the out-of-bod theme. OK, can I consider my music journalist license revoked now? Am I free to go?
Liars, Liars, pants on fire at Bottom of the Hill. Credit: Kimberly Chun
In other live show notes, here's a much-belated review of the mega June 5 Liars show at Bottom of the Hill, courtesy of Guardian freelance writer Chris Sabbath:
I had seen the Liars open for the YYY's four years ago back in Cleveland, Ohio, when they were still a quartet, and I was blown away. However, the band has undergone a lot of changes in terms of lineup and sound, so I was anticipating tonight’s performance to be different.
Several thoughts raced through my mind as I waited in line for the band’s sold-out show at the Bottom of the Hill. Would they play songs off of They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top? I guessed no, but pondered anyway. Could the band’s live sound top their new album’s slick production work? Would any faux-Simon instruments be involved like last time? How tall is Angus? I hope I have enough money for at least three beers. Will the girl standing behind me please shut the fuck up? Anyhow, I had missed the Liars last tour and was eager to see if they could best the one I had seen in Cleveland.
As I stood in the back patio chain-smoking cigarettes and chatting it up with friends, the muffled yet catastrophic din of Portland, Ore.’s Rabbits lured me back into the club. I was met with a wall of deafening feedback, layered fuzz, and a drummer way too happy to slam his sticks against his cymbals. The trio ripped through a tight sounding set of chaotic sludginess and doom metal (or for lack of an annoying classification -- tom rock, which is usually committed by drummers that beat their rack toms into the ground) that brought to mind several bands (Venom, Amphetamine Records-era Helmet, the Melvins 20 years back, High on Fire right now). The sound of two guitars locking horns and spiraling downward into one giant puddle of gritty tumult surpassed my expectations. I spilled more beer on myself, then in my mouth at the end of the band’s performance. My only disappointment was the fact that the band didn’t have any CDs for sale -- just LPs and T-shirts.
I saw the Apes open for the Gogogo Airheart three years ago in San Diego, and can vividly remember the performance being really intense and fun to watch. Yet I wasn’t too enthused with tonight’s set, mainly due to the fact that they had a new lead singer (which I had found out much to my dismay a few weeks back). As the Washington, DC, quartet was setting up, a short costumed character (somewhat resembling a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger) came onto the stage and began talking to the crowd. I really couldn’t make out what he was saying, partly because I was trying to get the bartender’s attention, and mainly because I really didn’t care, but as the rest of the band took the stage, the costumed figure took off the mask and revealed that herself to be the Apes’ organ player. Somebody in the group began to roll call each band member’s name off (Jackie Magik, Majestic Ape -- obviously not their real names) and then introduced the new vocalist before exploding into the first song.
I’m not sure if the songs they were playing were new or not, but I can assure you that it definitely sounded like classic Apes: proggy eruptions that seem to bounce up and down somewhere along the lines of King Crimson spitting out energetic, dancey chops. The costumes were pretty humorous -- the bass player looked like a war vet wearing disco tights, and the drummer resembled a track star. The vocalist stood out amongst the rest, a tall, lanky fellow wearing normal street clothes, shimmying back and forth and lunging at the crowd. His vocals were too watered down and didn’t seem to mesh well with the rest of the band. Maybe I am too attached to their old singer. Perhaps if I heard a recorded song with the new vocalist on it, I would feel differently, but I prefer the old singer’s nasally growl. In any case, the Apes' musicianship did stand out -- though, sad to say, their show made me picture Morris Day fronting a dynamite-sounding rock band. The crowd was definitely digging it, and the club was twice as crammed as it was for the Rabbits’ set.
I secured a corner of Bottom of the Hill just as the Liars were about to come on. As guitarist-percussionist Aaron tweaked some gadgets on stage, Julian jumped up and sat behind the drum set, dressed in what looked like an old boxing robe. The two started playing drums simultaneously and were joined shortly thereafter by singer-guitarist Angus (dressed to kill in a one-piece garage jumpsuit). The crowd yelled gleefully upon his arrival, and the band went into its first song, an ear-scathing mixture of guitar, drum banging, and effects pedals whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Most of the songs were from the band’s new album, Drums not Dead, but the Liars did dip into the breadbasket of old tunes from its last album. The trio strayed away from the dance-punk numbers from their first album, but at this point, I don’t think anybody really cared. The Liars' new songs are just as fun, and geared to make hips swivel and legs rattle up and down.
The band sounded much more balanced and explosive with three members as opposed to four. Julian’s drumming really helped thicken the sound and branched off past the simple disco beat that made the band earlier albums digestable. Aaron's and Angus’s cohesiveness as a duo was topnotch and more well-rounded than the last time I had seem them. I can only hope that they continue to explore different sound textures and not stick with the particular model that they have going on right now.
During the show, I noticed a few crowd surfers, men with shirts off beating their bare chests in approval, the occasional hipster covering his or her ears, and more beer -- spilled on me.
By the middle of the set, Angus had stripped off his uniform, to reveal a black and white checkered secretary dress. The crowd really didn’t react to the costume change.
...Therefore skirts for everyone. Credit: Kimberly Chun
I was very excited to hear “Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack!”, the first song off the new album, followed by an equally impressive “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack.” Other good numbers were the tom-happy “A Visit from Drum,” as well as a resounding version of “Broken Witch.” I didn't recognize some of the songs but found them just as mesmerizing -- thanks in part to Angus's hollow delivery on vocals and the band's knack for improvisation. Needless to say, the set was very comforting, with few pauses in between songs and lots of pleasing noise. No encore, but I felt the Liars had already proved their point in the hour that had passed, so I went home with head and body buzzing.