Just got back from the show, thought I’d write a little review while things are still fresh in my mind. So here goes…

At the last minute my friend Sarah decided to go with me. We got there kinda early, and the mostly empty building was reverberating with the sounds of a mellow, spacey electronic soundscape, which we later realized was provided by the first performer…

The opening act was just one guy who went by the name Doldrums. I’m still not sure exactly what I think about his music, nor do I have any idea how to classify it. It had all of the elements of dance music – drum loops, synthesizers, keyboards, samples, digitally effected vocals – but in no way was it dance music. His compositions took pretty abstract forms, with jerky transitions and no apparent structure. His beats were rather subdued for the most part, definitely not something you could dance to. When they did occasionally move to the forefront they were still mostly undanceable – very irregular rhythms with touches of tribal drums and lots of stops and starts. His samples were mostly annoying, with a helicopter sample reappearing entirely too frequently for my tastes. His vocals were flat-out horrible – high-pitched and nasally, drowned in reverb, and run through so many vocoders and effects that he often sounded more like a text to speech program set on “Japanese woman” than a lanky white boy with a hipster haircut. For stretches of a minute or two he would start doing something that sounded really cool, but ultimately it would morph into something painful to listen to. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, since he is clearly trying new things and attempting to do something unique, but it just didn’t work. Sarah absolutely hated his set, and more than a few members of the audience walked away, preferring to sit outside and chat or get drinks at the bar to listening and trying to figure out what the hell he was doing. So the overall verdict is his music is creative and definitely different, but not something I (or a large part of the audience) would ever want to listen to again.

The second act was a four piece band called Blouse. They had a girl singer who played guitar, another girl who played keyboards, and two guys handling bass and drums. Whoever was running the soundboard mixed them horribly – the vocals were buried and the keyboards were so loud that they almost hurt my ears when she played higher notes. The frontwoman (is that a word?) was constantly bending down to adjust her monitor and her effects pedals, and on one occasion she apologized for things not sounding quite right. But in spite of technical difficulties they kept on and managed to give a pretty good performance. Their sound was very dark, yet atmospheric, sort of like a mix of The Cocteau Twins, Fever Ray, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The singer’s voice, although hard to discern from the mix, had a certain sweetness that made me think that at some point in time they would break out into a huge pop chorus, but that never really happened. This isn’t to say their songs weren’t accessible, they most definitely were, just not in a mainstream rock sort of way. The rhythm section was tight, the keyboard textures were usually pretty interesting, and the guitar tones ranged from jangly to full-on distortion, sometimes in the same song. I was especially impressed with the drummer’s use of synth pads and triggers in addition to acoustic drumming. Fans of some of the more abstract New Wave stuff coming out of England in the early 80’s, the shoegaze movement, or 90’s alternative rock would probably like them a lot. While they didn’t blow me away, I enjoyed them.

By the time the headliners took the stage there was a pretty big turnout. After a false start and some tinkering with the light fixtures behind them, they finally kicked things off in grand fashion. A keyboard arpeggio and crashing drums set the tone for their set, which was somewhere in between arena rock concert and rave. The singer spent a lot of time playing with a Kaoss pad and a few other synths and loops, and frequently played bass on songs where the usual bassist switched to guitar. For those who aren’t familiar with Bear In Heaven, they build their songs around synth loops and arpeggios, and at times sound like they’re more content to jam on a groove than construct a pop song. Live this translated even better than I had expected, they managed to pull off a huge grandiose sound with such minimal instrumentation. Their drummer is flat-out amazing, often sounding like three drummers at once. He really pounds the shit out of his drum set, but is still able to lock in perfectly with all the loops and play amazingly intricate and unconventional rhythms. They have a knack for taking the most otherworldly sounds and beats and fitting them together into a long, deep groove that practically dares you to surrender to the music. The combination of strobes, colored lights, LED track lighting, lasers, and smoke machines made for a very visual experience as well. The whole spectacle had the vibe of a great party, except instead of a DJ you had an amazing live band. Even after being a fan for a few years, I’m at a loss for words. They definitely take things to a new level with their energy, top-notch musicianship, and all-powerful groove. Bloggers and hipsters like to toss around a lot of big words and name drop obscure Krautrock and industrial dance bands, but experiencing these guys live gives on the feeling that they are one of the few bands out there who are truly doing something unique that defies easy classification.

After the show I picked up a copy of Bear In Heaven’s newest album, I Love You, It’s Cool. The packaging and artwork on the vinyl release is pretty great. I just downloaded the mp3 copy and I’m almost through my first listen as I’m writing this. It’s a little different from their last album, and not nearly as huge sounding as their live show, but so far it’s very good. Most of the stylistic detours they take are successful, the production is crisp and fits the tone of the music perfectly, and the songs sound just as strong as on previous releases. If you’re already a fan, definitely pick up the new album. If they come anywhere near you, by all means go and see them. If you’re not a fan, their live show could most certainly win you over. And if you’re not familiar with them, what are you waiting for? For once the assclowns at Pitchfork got something right – Bear In Heaven is one of the most original and important bands currently making music.

 

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