I hadn't heard much of you previous to going to the show--a couple of older songs my friend Ryan had given me (and that I'd never really responded to) and My Girls (oh, and Comfy in Nautica which I guess counts but struck me as "Beach Boys Lite")--so I downloaded (and paid for! I'm old) "Merriweather Post Pavilion", listening to most of it on the way up. And liking it but also anticipating that the live show would persuade me one way or the other, as it always has with other bands.
But two days later, I'm still not sure how I feel about it.
Our freelance blogger at the New Times was pretty effusive about the show, comparing your sound to Terry Riley, which is an apt comparison if we're talking about "In C" but not for something like Music for the Gift or Birds of Paradise. And really, if a writer's going to go in that direction, he could throw out any number of post-WWII minimalist composers and find at least one recording that sticks: Reich's Piano Phase or Music for 18 Musicians, parts of Stockhausen's Stimmung, Philip Glass (pre-film score), Adams' Shaker Loops, etc. But he could also probably say Aphex Twin or Brian Eno, or hell, the Grateful Dead if he's referring to the way you guys chunk parts of different songs into greater medleys.
And certainly, not many of the teenagers--and the crowd was definitively under 21--had no such reference point for what they were hearing. All of the lush transitions were lost on the crowd. I scanned the faces around me pretty frequently, and unless you were hitting the hook of one of your songs, I saw a lot of yawning, or determined scowls trying desperately to access what was happening on stage. Which was the part I liked. And what made me happy that your band has become this juggernaut with a teflon-resistance to all criticism. Those kids came for a rock show, but what they got was closer to an AMM-style free jazz performance with snippets of rock songs.
And the kids did rock out when you let them. Whenever Noah Lennox played the drums, it was on. There were ecstatic moments of hands in the hair, jumping, etc., but for a band as desperately adored by the younger set as you guys are, reaching those moments is the easy part. It's much harder to get those kids to enjoy the endless looping. Did they? I'm sure they'll say they did. It was a small show so even getting to go was something of a privilege, and everyone likes to say, "I saw so-and-so in a 200 person club on blah, blah, blah, and it was [insert generic high praise]." But I think a lot of them were a little confounded.
Of course, there's the possibility that it was only me who was slightly confounded. Me who didn't even recognize the hooks of the songs (save for the afore mentioned My Girls, which was played within the first ten minutes of the show--I remember thinking, OK, that was my moment), me who is possibly too old to be a true fan. I was listening to a lecture by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney recently (who is 28) in which he talked about not begrudging the next generation a different set of aesthetic preferences, so I concede if I'm too square or too uninformed.
But if our blogger's correct, and you're actually jumping off from a piece of music composed in 1964, then I should be able to access it right? Especially if I'm quite familiar with that music. Yet I think what separates your live show from, say, "In C", is that you're not building off of one loop; you're jumping around, starting and stopping, still mostly in the mode of a standard rock show. And the sound felt in between to me. Whereas "In C" is very sharp, your electronic sounds came off a little bit dull--hammers as opposed to knives. A rock show. But one in which we're not exactly allowed to rock. One in which we spend most of the time admiring the Top Chef-like skill which all three of you display running back and forth between different instruments (also reminiscent of John Cage's Water Walk). A performance, in other words, I'd like to hear with much more clarity, and decidedly less volume, especially in such an intimate space.
It might be like Bob Dylan going electric, but I'd like to see you guys go back to acoustic. Either way, I was impressed enough with your abilities as musicians (utterly undeniable) that I'd see you again.