It was an evening of technical difficulties that could've gone horribly, horrible wrong if it wasn't for the power of Hot Chip. This was my third time seeing them -- I saw them open for Maximo Park a year ago at Rothko, and then at the Hiro Ballroom in September as part of ResFest -- and they have gotten better each time. What sets Hot Chip apart from other keyboard-driven bands is that almost everything you hear is played live at the show -- no laptops. (None that I could see.) There were also guitars and cowbells and (whale-shaped) maracas. It's also the people making that music, who look like five guys from the AV Club.
And of course, the music itself. The material from their upcoming album The Warning is such a creative leap forward in every way (I wrote about it already), from the songs to the production, you can just feel this is going to Hot Chip's year. The crowd was majorly pumped for the show and didn't seem to mind the long wait while they set up all their keyboards. They were missing fifth Chip Felix Martin -- down with a bad bug of some sort -- but were augmented at this show by LCD Soundsystem drummer (and Dave "Gruber" Allen lookalike) Pat Mahoney. Also on hand was LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy who helped patch cables and fix some of the many technical malfunctions the band was suffering through that night.
Once that was all sorted out, Hot Chip absolutely killed. I hadn't seen a Bowery Ballroom crowd go this bananas since the LCD Soundsystem show a year ago. Heck, I was dancing... and I wasn't even that drunk. The setlist was heavy on Warning songs -- all of which the crowd seemed to know (thanks, Internet!) -- "Careful," "The Boy From School," "No Fit State" and first single "Over and Over" which sent everyone over the edge. Those technical difficulties kept the band from doing an encore but I don't think anyone left disappointed.
If only the rest of the evening had been as good...
Equipment Failure plagued openers The Presets as well. I got to Bowery Ballroom around 9:15 thinking the Presets would be onstage already, only to have the bouncer tell us that "the upstairs would be open any minute." The downstairs bar/lounge was packed already, people with nowhere to go. I found my friend Heather who had managed to snag one of the couches, and we hung with her until they finally opened the upstairs around 10pm at which point almost everyone instantly headed upstairs. We followed suit.
The band kept apologizing for the delays throughout their short set. Electronic acts never have an easy job playing live. Trying to keep the audience engaged while you're twiddling knobs is no easy job, especially when you're only two guys on a big stage like the Bowery. But these Aussies did a pretty good job of it, helped in part by Kim Moyes' live drumming, with bonus points earned for not wearing headphones. Singer Julian Hamilton was distracted the first half of the show by aforementioned technical difficulties, but once everything fell into place he gave it his all. Musically, the Presets remind me of a lot of '80s synth stuff, particularly Blancmange and later-period Nitzer Ebb (after they went more pop). I bet in a small club (like the Cake Shop show they played the night before) it would be awesome. Here, it was just pretty good.
Grand National were up next. Kicking the National Habit has been out in the UK for almost two years but is just now getting its Stateside debut. Not sure why it took so long -- it's a great party record with near-perfect production and some truly killer basslines. Three songs -- "Talk Amongst Yourselves," "Drink to Moving On" and "Peanut Dreams" -- are flat-out great, and the rest of the album is at least fun. I saw Grand National at Mercury Lounge nearly a year ago and was put off by the cheesy behavior of frontman Lawrence 'La' Rudd, but was hoping that maybe they'd cleaned up their act.
Somehow it had all gotten worse. How can a band have such an
enjoyable record and be so horrible -- HORRIBLE -- live? It begins and
ends with 'La' Rudd. Bronzed, with one of the most ridiculous haircuts
I've ever seen (and I remember the '80s!), he seems like the kind of
guy who still thinks it's cool to vacation in Ibiza. His stage banter
was of the "New York... I can't hear you!" variety and, at one point,
"bring it down," asking the crowd to actually crouch down. Maybe the
front row did this, but not anyone else.
But it got much, much worse. One bit of trivia that has appeared in most articles on the band is that 'La' Rudd and guitarist Rupert Lyddon previously logged time in a Police cover band. This influence is pretty obvious if you listen to the record ("Daylight Goes" is pretty much a Police homage). Anyway, about three-quarters of the way through the set, 'La' Rudd grabs an acoustic guitar and proceeds to do an acoustic version of "Walking on the Moon"!!! There was no irony. Who wanted to hear this? Judging by the crowd exodus downstairs, almost no one. At the time, I figured it was their last song and went downstairs for a breather (partly out of embarrassment). When I returned, not only were they still playing, but Lyddon was singing "When Doves Cry"! Then during their final song, "Banging in the Distance," they worked in a bit of New Order's "Blue Monday" in a somewhat clever way, actually, but it was too late for them. The girl in front of me, who looked like she probably owned all of the Sex and the City DVDs, loved it. So what do I know?
Hot Chip photo by my pal Dorrit; Grand National pic swiped from F.Trainer's Flickr photostream.