HIPPIE NATURALISM & ROBOT SYNTHETICS Black Moth Super
Even in concert the
avant-indie icons manage to mesmerize and mystify.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
The super trippy Black Moth Super Rainbow makes an
otherworldly sound, its songs bulging with synthesizer flourishes, filtered
through a robot-esque vocoder, paced by pounding, syncopated drum and bass. Natural
images float by, though viewed through prism lenses and rainbow clouds. Suns
are always rising, flowers blooming, yet the colors are brighter than normal,
the sounds sleeker and more plasticine. Listening to 2007’s Dandelion Gum or this year’s Eating Us, it’s hard to envision exactly how a band – a
bunch of regular people – would elicit these tones and melodies. What exactly
do “Bubblegum Animals”‘ look like? What flavor is your “Lollipopsichord”?
A live performance, though, this past August 27 at the Iron
Horse in Northampton, Mass., did little to dispel the mystery.
Voice-altered singer Tobacco huddled in the rear of the
room, near a makeshift movie screen projecting disturbing imagery from horror
movies. Lanky Father Hummingbird set up camp on the floor to the right of the
stage, pumping glossy swells of polysynth sound from a keyboard and
occasionally stepping up to play a little bass. Drummer D. Kyler rattled rapid
snare-shot breakbeat rhythms from behind her kit. And the Seven Fields of
Aphelion smiled beatifically from behind her keyboard, salaaming in thanks for
applause. The tunes were made flesh – and yet not – remaining as untouchably
strange and ebullient as the first time you heard them out of a stereo.
But first the opening band. Black Moth Super Rainbow was travelling
this tour with a NYC band called Soundpool, a five piece that set up as people
filtered into the room. (It takes a long time to get into the venue, because of
a changeover from an early show with Buffalo Springfield vet Richie
Furay.) Soundpool, like BMSR, deals in
dream-like textures and atmospheres, Kim Field singing high and pure above a
very odd mix of space-y, shoegaze-y guitars and hard funk bass and drums. Her
partner, and the band’s co-founder, John Ceparano, holds down the left side of
the stage, stomping on pedals, bending into the speaker for feedback and
working the whammy bar at blur speed. On the right hand side, Dean McCormick
stalks and bobs, his bass pulsing somewhere between funk and disco, while Mark
Robinson coaxes eerie wails of synthesizer out of a Nord 2 set up. And in the
back, James Renard lays down a heavy, uncompromising beat, the anchor to all
those airy clouds of sound.
The sound mix is not quite right, making it difficult to
hear the vocals well, or discern lyrics. You get a vague sense of airy lyricism
over thumping bass and space raider synthesizers in “Do What You Love,” early
on, but only a shard or two of the “Do you…” chorus. “Wide Awake in Dreamland”
starts with a hard, drum-beat, its austerity soon swathed in diffuse clouds of
synthesizer and eerie guitar effects. “The Divides of March”, the big song off Dichotomies and Dreamland, turns from
diva pop into an extended kraut-ish jam; near the end, “Butterflies,” also
coming late, takes a quiet-storm soul tack, building chilled keyboards and
wah-wah guitars into its slow burn. You
finish, not quite sold, but wanting to hear more.
Black Moth Super Rainbow works with video accompaniment,
projected onto a bedsheet, and in fact, they start with just a video, a
self-deprecating piece where a blogger type makes fun of their long name and
calls them one of the five worst bands working today. (We never find out who
the other four are.) It’s all tongue in
cheek, and followed by another expert in hipster glasses who recommends that
they change their name to Black Rainbows featuring Super Moth. (Funny image of
Super Moth, a fat kid in dreads.) Okay,
it is a long name, and sometimes I get mixed up and say Black Super Moth
Rainbow, but enough’s enough, let’s get to the show. And finally, they do.
It all starts with a hard funky beat, a percussive
underpinning that is harder, sharper, dryer and more prominent than in BMSR’s
synth-swaddled, hippy fluted CDs. The bass, too, is leaning more toward Motown
than Paisley Underground, a thudding, undulating foundation for pastel washes
of synth. The band plays a good bit of Dandelion Gum as well as the janglier,
more 1960s-guitar centric Eating Us, with the bass player sometimes
moving to guitar, and Father Hummingbird clambering up onto the main stage to
pick up the bass. The video show continues throughout, juxtaposing often very
disturbing images – fruit decaying, a man whose hands have turned to skeleton
bones, dismemberment – with breezy lyrics about sun and butterflies.
There is a surge of excitement at the first crystalline
synths of “Sun Lips,” a murmur of approval at the strident “Woo!” “Woo!” of
synths at the opening to “Lollipsichord.” Tobacco, the band’s reclusive
songwriter, remains obscured at the back of the stage, hunched over a pink
microphone, whispering psychedelic lyrics through the vocoder. There’s a modal
folky inevitability to many of these melodies, which twine up and down scales
in flowery bursts. Yet what seems trippy and bucolic in recordings turns into
kraut-leaning jam onstage, hard beats driving, bass thudding through cuts like
“Melt Me”. A boy in a fedora is executing complicated nearly choreographed
shimmies of arms and torso down in front; around him, a seething mass of arms
and heads sway in time. BMSR’s head music has turned, somehow, into body music.
There is a very brief interval between main show and encore,
as Apelion flips through her sheet music, and then the Beatlesque keys, the
funk-syncopated drums, the slicked swells of synthesizers of “Born on a Day the
Sun Didn’t Rise” ensues. You’re still
not sure how they do it, even standing right in front of the band, but BSMR has
linked hippie naturalism with robot synthetics, dreamy folk with funky
breakbeats, self-effacing musicianship with baroque video images without
letting any of the seams show.
For a gallery of
images from the show, go HERE.
To read the BLURT
interview with BMSR, go HERE.