Report: Raveonettes Live in Northampton

Rave on. April 18 at Pearl
Street in Northampton, Mass., the Danish duo – abetted by opener Tamaryn –
showcased their new album.

 

Text & Photos by Jennifer Kelly

A lot has happened since the last time I saw the Raveonettes on a
minor stop in their Chain Gang of Love tour sometime back in the mid-00s. Their splice of girl group melody and rackety,
effect-driven guitar sounded new then, or at least relatively unusual. It was
still half a decade before Vivian Girls, Pains of Being Pure at Heart and their
many followers would colonize this blend of haze and sweetness. Rock was back,
at least temporarily, and there was plenty of room for a gorgeous blonde bass
player, a floorboard’s worth of guitar pedals and a sound that linked the
Ronettes to the Ventures to the Jesus & Mary Chain.

 

As it turns out, there’s still some room for Sune Rose Wagner and
Sharin Foo, whose live act has gotten sharper even as their recorded output has
grown more diffuse and atmospheric. For this tour, they’ve got a slate of
spooky tunes – they play the bulk of new Raven
from the Grave
tonight – as well as a beefed up line-up. In addition to the
band’s two main members, there are two other guys in tow. For much of the
night, they play short-handed drum sets – just a snare, floor tom, crash cymbal
and tambourine – in perfect synchronization, pounding out primitive, booming
beats that give even the Raveonette’s airiest new songs a rush of adrenaline. The
set is heavy on new material, but also includes selections from Whip It On, Chain Gang of Love, Lust Lust
Lust
, and In and Out of Control,
plus at least one cover.

 

 

But first, Tamaryn, a wavy-haired singer from New Zealand (by way of San Francisco), whose The Waves came out last
fall on Mexican Summer. With guitarist and producer Rex John Silverton, she is
working the same glistening drones and space-rocking miasmas as labelmates No
Joy, with a hint of Zola Jesus’ psychic disintegration added in. I arrive just
at the end of her set, her partner’s effects winding down like a helicopter
landing, and wish I’d heard more.

 

Tamaryn is done at nine (band’s only start on time when I’m late, it
seems), and the Raveonettes won’t go on until after 10, so there’s plenty of
time to observe the set-up process. Two techs wander around fixing wiring, one
of them with a miner’s headlight. Three sets of guitar pedals – 18 of them in
all – are hauled to the stage. A sheet of paper that looks like a set list is
taped to the floor where Wagner will play, but it’s too short to be a set list
and anyway, doesn’t appear to have any Raveonettes songs on it. Only later,
when an actual set list materializes do I realize that it’s a diagram for
Wagner’s effects lay-out, with words like “Hole” and “Bliss” indicating where
his foot goes for what song. There are also a lot of special lights and a set
of amps that read “Rave” and “On” in the strobe flash. I realize, finally, why
there’s an “o” in Raveonettes – never occurred to me before.

 

 

Finally, the Raveonettes come on stage, Wagner in a “Back to the
Future” tee-shirt, Foo all in black, her blonde hair cut in a neat, geometrical
bob. “We’ve been here before,” she says, smiling shyly into the mic, and to
judge by the whoop, I’m not the only one that’s back for the second time.   The band is not big on chatter, however, so
we dive right into a brace of Raven from
the Grave
tunes, the booming drums and screaming guitars of “Recharge and
Revolt,” the bell-like synths of “War in Heaven,” the languid chords and dreamy
melody of “Let Me On Out.”

 

Then, in a shift towards the past, the band revisits Lust Lust Lust‘s “Dead Sound,” its
velvety harmonies joined to pounding, galloping, double drumming. The strobe
lights are going off in epilepsy-inducing bursts, and something wild is
happening in the intersection of arching guitars and obliterating drums. (I am
also thinking, why do they care whether I use a camera flash or not, if they’re
going to work in a continual stutter of flashes?)  There are a few more older songs, “Noisy
Summer”, “Love in a Trash Can” and “Lust Lust Lust.”

 

You can’t help but notice the drop in intensity, when the band goes
back to its new material. Slow, hazy “Apparitions” with its interlocking
guitars and sudden crashing chords drifts through chilly, spectral spaces. Two
drummers are in play here, putting spine under its slow-spooling melodies, but
it’s a whole different feel from the earlier material. “Evil Seeds” follows,
guitars oscillating, Twilight Zone-style
between two notes, the beat, when it comes, snatched whole from Spector’s “Be
My Baby.” There’s a menace in this song, a James Bond-ish aura of slinky threat.
 “Ignite,” my favorite of the new songs,
comes next, its howling surf guitar and big rhythms blowing up until it fills
the room.

 

 

 

Then, just as I’m coming to terms with the Raven songs, the band pulls out two from the distant past – “My
Tornado” and “Attack of the Ghost Riders” – which make it clear what they’ve
left behind.  “Attack,” in particular, is
blown up to massive proportions by booming drums and exploding fireballs of
feedback. “It goes something like this…” Foo whispers in the midst of “Ghost
Riders,” and a tidal wave of noise builds behind her, carrying the song and the
show into a whole other space. The band closes its main set with delicate
doo-woppy “My Time’s Up” from the current album. The encore, which follows
closely, is “Forget That You’re Young” and a cover of the Stone Roses’ “I Wanna
Be Adored.” The whole thing is over by 11 o’clock, but it’s a good show, and I
don’t think anyone feels cheated.

 

The main take-away is that the Raveonettes are as good a band as
they’ve ever been live, way tighter and more effective than they were the last
time I saw them and benefitting from the larger sound that comes with two
drummers (or, in some songs, a drummer and an extra guitar player). Their new
album is a shift in style which not everyone’s going to be on board with, but
there are some good songs on it. And, in any case, even the older material
sounds better than it ever has in concert. Rave on, indeed.

 

 

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