Moogfest 2012 Coverage!
Contributor Alli Marshall, who
lives in Asheville, NC, city host of the annual Moogfest, filed
this report in conjunction with our Moogfest 2012 coverage. Go here to read an additional
report, and go here to see an exclusive photo gallery of the artists in concert
as well as sundry colorful concertgoers.
This is my thought about people who
live in really big cities: They’re thin and pale because they don’t get much
sunlight and they don’t have room to spread out or accumulate. But they also
develop this efficiency of gesture and expression, and a relationship to
darkness. They understand nuances and variations of shadows and small spaces.
All of that, I realize, is a
generalization based on no facts whatsoever. And yet I feel like it makes sense
in the context of Exitmusic.
Dark, insular, efficient.
Efficient not so much in term of
brevity or sparsity, but in terms of cutting to the quick. The sharper knife,
the more clean the cut.
Such is the impact of Exitmusic. So
layered, so deep, so very, very dark. They cut clean and deep, they cut before
you realize how you’ve been cleaved by their sounds, by their rolling smog and
the molasses-thick tremor of Aleksa Palladino’s voice.
Her vocal is a bruised perfection. A
thing of astonishing beauty and chilled emotionalism. Haunted, warbling, pushed
past its prettiness. “We are sparks of light but we hide,” she intones, over
and over, during the band’s encore. (Yes, encore. Following a standing
Exitmusic’s name sounds like the
song at the end of the credits, but really this soundtrack is a way out rather
than a way in. It’s a fever dream. Its mechanizations and robot heart have gone
renegade, slipping into a narcotic haze.
The band plays as if they’re
painting, as if they’re wading through quicksand, as if they’re emerged in a
black ocean, as if they’re dancing while drowning. They pulse and ebb; they
call the music forth from their thin, pale frames.
Much has been said about the feral
nature of percussionist Ryan Oslance’s onstage presence. I myself have said
much about it – it’s hard not to. He shows up to his kit barefoot and
shirtless, in gym shorts, looking ready for a workout. And that’s pretty much
what happens. Oslance approaches drumming sort of like one would approach a
parkour course. And, in a sense, Ahleuchatistas‘
music is something akin to sonic parkour, a race of immense speed and skill,
physical prowess, mental fortitude and ninja-like reflexes.
The thing is, Oslance is the yin (or
yang) to guitarist Shane Perlowin’s yang (or yin). Where Oslance is wild,
unfettered and undressed, Perlowin is tidy and methodical, his complex guitar
work mapped out and precise. Even his clothing and haircut are precise. But
there’s something to this dichotomy and its resultant whole. Something beyond
opposites attracting, something more like the law of magnets.
Ahleuchatistas are magnetic. Their
sound is the culmination of a decade of experimentation and refinement, and on
stage at Diana Wortham Theatre they look fully comfortable at this point in
their evolution. At ease with both the algorithms and organic science that they
marry into, but at ease with the experimenting still to be done, the paths
still to be explored.
Long guitar notes meet a stampede of
drums. Hints of eastern ragas nudge Old West textures. Oslance triple-stacks
his cymbals, plays his drums using rattles and mallets. Tightly-woven rhythms
and melodies are accented by explosive bursts.
Oslance’s space is a garage sale of
paraphernalia, from cymbals and sticks to bells and chains that he dangles from
his body so every movement is a percussive rumble. Perlowin’s space is sparse –
loop pedals and a single stool. In the heat of a song, he stands, guitar worn
high on his chest, finessing the notes with deft fingers.
The finale of the evening involved
Oslance covering his drums with tarps and then throwing things at the set. Arms
full off chains and bells, metal pieces, whatever he could grab. A cacophony to
match the steady guitar. Melodic and dissonant, rhythmic and arrhythmic, all
facets of the same shining thing.
Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner traded
off lead vocals and lead guitar duties on stage; Daniel sang first on the
slow-building “Neapolitans” and then Boeckner took his turn on the itchy,
urgent “Baby Gets Worse.” While Daniel is probably the bigger star of the two,
he was actually somewhat overshadowed by Boeckner’s stage presence – Boeckner
who moves in tight jerks and unselfconscious struts. He’s all sharp angles and
shadows, the contours of his face recalling, at times, a young Nick Cave.
Both Daniel and Boeckner sing with a
roughness at the edges of their voices. Their vocals have separate moods and
nuances, but they’re close enough to blend in sound and theme as they worked
through the tracks of their album, A
Thing Called Divine Fits (along with covers of Frank Ocean’s
“Lost” and Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky”). Lyrically, Britt’s songs (the
tight, jittery “Flaggin A Ride,” the skulking, “Would That Not Be Nice”) are
more complex; Boeckner’s (the static-y, haunted dance number, “My Love Is Real)
are more emotional. His is the stuff of broken heartedness, of deep wounds set
to fantastic hooks and driving beats.
But for all that intensity, all that
coiled energy and gorgeously raw edges, there was also playfulness throughout
the show. Boeckner and Daniel talked about the Halloween costumes on the floor,
they traded solos and seemed to push each other to guitar flourishes, and vocal
And the band as a whole, now more
than a month into its tour, proved to be a polished machine. They look at each
other like a group boys who’ve just found their way onto arena stages for the
first time; they play like seasoned pros. Really, both are true. Divine Fits is
made up of musicians who’ve been at this for awhile (20 years in Daniel’s
case), but as this band, they’re newcomers. The excitement is as palpable as
those rock hooks and those raged vocals. And, at the culmination of “Shivers,”
when both Daniel and Boeckner did that rock star leap to end the final note, it
didn’t come off like going through the motions.
Despite Andrew Wyatt’s mostly
front-and-center positioning (the American is the lead singer of Swedish
synth-pop band Miike Snow), the best part of the band was the live drummer who
was not only entertaining to watch but kept
perfect time with the electronic beats.
Wyatt, in aviators and a track
jacket, sang his way through clouds of smoke, stalking across the stage during
“Pretender.” For the majority of the set, he didn’t play an instrument but
stuck to vocals alone. That’s hard to pull off – most singers just look more
natural behind a piano or guitar, even it it’s just in the role of rhythm
guitarist. Miike Snow’s songs and setup come complete with all the rock ‘n’
roll trapping – the smoke machine, the light show, the effects – but I kept finding myself thinking that the songs would be
just as good if performed as straightforward rockers.
My favorite songs of the evening
where those bathed in red light, like the slowed “God Help This Divorce”
(accented by bell sounds) and “Black Tin Box” with its Nine Inch Nails-esque
menace. Heavy percussion and Wyatt’s pure (though under used) falsetto proved
that Miike Snow could do more than catchy radio pop.
said, the crowd response was best at the band’s big hits, “Black & Blue”
and “Animal.” The latter came at the end of the show, complete with a blinking
deer head image and an extended dance mix finish.
Likely because of Thomas Dolby’s
longevity, and because his greatest fame was 30 years ago, his audience was
older. One of the great things about Moogfest, and about electronic music, is
that while both are connected to youth culture, they also recognize and embrace
roots that go back 40 and 50 years. And those players, those innovators from
the ’60s and ’70s, are doing work that’s completely viable when held up against
the rest of Moogfest’s roster.
On stage, in a sparkly jacket and
ornate hat, Dolby led his band from behind his synthesizer. His set covered his
career, from “Commercial Breakup” (off 1982’s The Golden Age of Wireless; the same album as “She Blinded Me with
Science”) and the title track from The
Flat Earth (‘84) to a couple of new tunes. Among those was a song about a
guy who has a misadventure while jet lagged in New York City (it includes a
vocal sample of Regina Spektor acting the part of a Ukrainian waitress working
in an all-night diner) and “Toad Lickers,” about a mythical tribe of “Eco-hippies
who lick psychedelic frogs to get high and then listen to a mash up of
Appalachian bluegrass and hardcore techno.” So said Dolby.
Perhaps surprisingly, there’s a
continuity to his music. The ’80s-era synth pop sound is not just a current
throughout, but the palette from which Dolby works. But he’s also a collector
of sounds and ideas, interesting samples and wild imaginings. The full-band
orchestrations of his songs showcase a fully-realized style that both pushes
boundaries and remains comfortably pop-based and digestible.
originally published at http://moogfest.mountainx.com.)