* * *
Setting the tone for a day of danceable, mostly electronics-assisted rock at the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason was Brooklyn duo The Hundred In The Hands (whom I often confuse with The Head & the Heart, though the two bands have nothing in common save very low ratings from Pitchfork). They were a fitting opener, not too exciting and not too exhausting, delivering a set of atmospheric and pleasant electro-rock that was pretty but not terribly interesting. However, singer/keyboardist Eleanore Everdell is worth noting as a fine singer and synth player.
* * * * 1/2
I almost skipped New Pants’ set. They were the only band on the bill I had never heard of, and as they were billed as “New Pants + Feng Mengbo’s Bruce Lee Projection Project” or something along those lines, I figured they must have been some sort of novelty multimedia project. Moral of story: be afraid of the unknown, but never cynical about it. New Pants, as it turned out, were an absolutely insane band from Beijing (of all places!) who played a spastic, high-energy hybrid of power-pop and M83-style heavy synth-rock. The projection part of it was an extremely trippy series of video projections by Chinese “new media” artist Feng Mengbo, which ranged from color-swapped SpongeBob clips to bizarre manga footage. Combined, the experience was not unlike the first time I saw a movie in 3D--physical, engaging, high-energy, immersive, and quite unnerving but overall a total blast. I wonder how many people were disappointed that they were sober.
* * * *
L.A. crew Health delivered the loudest and most intense set of the day, an impenetrable and utterly bizarre set of smash-everything noise-rock so paleolithic it had to be good for you, delivered at volumes that probably weren’t too healthy. The entire building was pulsing--the front doors practically came off their hinges, and I swear I saw some dust fall from the ceiling onto the crowd.
* * *
Vancouver’s Teen Daze did a DJ set of unmemorable but pleasant electronic music unaided by any visuals. While the music was pleasant, he could have easily been the house DJ, and I actually thought he might have been during the first few minutes of his set.
* * * 1/2
Introduced by none other than San Francisco mayor Ed Lee, the only person I’ll probably ever hear use “let’s get this party started” and “The Antlers” in the same sentence, the critically adored Brooklyn outfit spent their set creating a dark, moody, psychedelic atmosphere. Indeed, “atmosphere” is the key word here--they did not play any songs one could dance or sing along to, instead casting a spell over the Pavilion with loose songs that drifted like clouds of smoke. It was also interesting seeing Pete Silberman hit those chilling high notes live, especially when he looked like he could have been any member of the audience with his beard and street clothes.
* * * *
Avant-hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces, consisting of rapper-electronicist Palaceer Lazaro (Ishmael Butler, formerly known as Butterfly of Digable Planets) and singer-percussionist Tendai “Baba” Maraire, had the one of the less impressive stage shows of the night--just the two of them side by side onstage. They made up for it with a performance that was difficult not to focus your eyes and ears on, marked by unearthly distortion and bone-rattling synth bass. While the music was excellent, Shabazz Palaces are one of those bands I could have lived without seeing live. They weren’t bad--they were simply not the sort of band that has to be experienced onstage for your knowledge of their music or intentions to be complete.
* * * 1/2
Synth-goth-pop singer Zola Jesus did not let her dimunitive height and an extremely awkward stage-dive (which resulted in her butt-sliding down my friend Kai’s head) stand in the way of her delivering the most commanding performance of the night. Dressed in flowing white robes, accompanied by a shapely and silhouetted violinist that acted as something of her foil, and aided by an abstract video projection that could have been footage of balloons or cell mitosis, Jesus posed an ethereal yet physical figure onstage. Adding to her powerful presence was her voice, a husky, operatic howl that seemed to come from somewhere else even when she was practically screaming in my ear during her stage-dive.
I had a remarkable sober epiphany while I was waiting for Squarepusher to begin his set. I had previously thought the name “Squarepusher” either connotated some sort of video-game action (think Tetris) or, more cheesily, had to do with “pushing squares” to become hip and get on the dancefloor. When I saw the British breakbeat pioneer contemplate his control pad, I realized it was a job description--many synthesizers, samplers, and drum machines are operated by pushing squares, and “squarepusher” is an appelation that could apply to anyone who pushes squares to make music.
Squarepusher’s set justified his workman-like title--this was electronic music at its most basic, minimal, and economic. Most of the songs consisted of little more than beats and bass, with the occasional synth squiggle or melody. How this music was supposed to hold up live was beyond me, and it may have also been beyond Squarepusher himself. The light show was only slightly less necessary than it was interesting (it wasn’t either), and the music was too fast and unpredictable to dance to while too loud and bass-heavy not to move to. The experience ended up being more exhausting than anything else, especially as my legs were fully prepared to dance but ended up locked in place from both the density of the crowd and the music.
YEAH YEAH YEAHS
* * * *
Luckily, the energy was quickly rekindled with a scorching set from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The New York rockers took advantage of their role as the band with the most “hits” (I've actually heard "Zero" at several janky freshman dances in the city), playing almost all of their well-known songs to a crowd that knew virtually every word. Aside from guitarist Nick Zinner’s pedals, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the only band not showcasing some form of electronic technology and were primarily interested in putting on a great show--which they certainly did.
JAMES MURPHY, NANCY WHANG, & PAT MAHONEY (LCD SOUNDSYSTEM)
* * * *
By the time the three main members of the defunct New York dance-rock band LCD Soundsystem took the stage with their closing DJ set, most people had left already, and the trio was left playing their immaculately crafted and insanely danceable disco mixes to a crowd of people who now had plenty of room to dance. It was a mixed blessing, as their music was simply too funky for people not to hear but also too funky not to spazz out to--and if the floor had been as crowded as it was during the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, people would be humping each other just to be able to dance.