Monday, September 10, 2007

caribou @ the arches, 9/9/07

i went to the caribou gig monday night with as much of an open mind as i could muster, but the evening seemed destined for disaster from the start. my worries were five-fold, from the mundane (are they going to play any old stuff?) to the practical (will it end in time for us to catch the last bus back to edinburgh?). in addition, try as i might, i hadn't been able to find out who the opener was (or how many there were), and the man who sold me the tickets that morning has cautioned that he had sold only ten others. i had nightmarish visions of caribou storming off the stage in disgust as the twenty person crowd looked on, dismayed. this lack of sales was no doubt compounded by caribou's epic tour odyssey, which brings them back to glasgow next friday to open for the go! team. so, when we arrived to learn that the opener (still unnamed) would be going on at either 8.30 or 9.15 and that the crowd, while more than twenty, wasn't all that much more than twenty, my fears for the worst became my expectations of the same.

fortunately, i was completely wrong. the last time i had been so happy to be wrong was when i thought i was going to fail my p.e. class and not graduate (i passed, and graduated). the opener turned out to be a lovely guy, graeme j. d. ronald, who performs under the name remember remember; the crowd swelled, and while it was by no means a sold out show, we were enthusiastic and appreciative; caribou played a great deal of old stuff; and i started writing this review on the horrible and bumpy bus ride back to edinburgh. so i was 0-for-4 with the worries, and i couldn't be happier about it.

i'd never heard 0f remember remember before last night, but you better believe i'll be paying some close attention from now on. his two-and-a-half song set, lasting close to twenty minutes, was definitely not enough. clearly somewhat frightened and stage-shy, remember remember nonetheless kept his crowd silent and standing stock-still as he showed us how to play beautiful music with children's toys, all by yourself. all you need is a wind-up monkey, a pair of scissors, some off-and-then-on tempo handclaps, and seven or eight looping pedals.

the one man band gimmick is quite popular nowadays, from stoner heartthrob keller williams to hipster (and mr. mammoth) darling owen pallett, not to mention daniel snaith himself. while performing as a one man band isn't always the easiest thing (thus caribou's four man live act), remember remember pulled it off like it was no thing. instead of merely creating a part for each instrument in a band's regular arsenal (guitar, bass, drums, etc.), remember remember proved that we were going to be treated to something special when the first sound he looped was the "plunk" of a coin being dropped into a glass of water. toy instruments are all the rage right about now, and remember remember followed the trend, filling his table with eight or ten little noisemakers and a child's xylophone. the xylophone was often remember remember's main melodic device, and he crafted these melodies by playing several short phrases and layering them on top of each other. his only traditional instrument was a guitar which he played in the same fashion, which was absolutely spellbinding. usually an opening act can't buy the audience's silence, but the arches was respectful and attentive throughout his set, enraptured by his delicate and hypnotic music.

one reason i was so enchanted by remember remember was his imaginative musical use of household hardware. using, in succession, a tape measure, clear tape, and a pair of safety scissors, on top of his abstracted guitar picking and ringing xylophone notes, remember remember's soundsmithing was something to behold. without a label and seemingly based exclusively in glasgow, it looks unlikely that remember remember will be able to break anytime soon, but the charisma of the four tracks available for download on his myspace is so apparent that any forward thinking label should want to snap him up right away. hopefully we'll be hearing much more from remember remember very soon.

however soothed and happy i felt during remember remember's set, it quickly was replaced by anxiety as daniel snaith and the touring members of caribou took the stage. a regular reader of this blog will remember how disappointed i had been by andorra, and as a result, of all the fears i had had for this show, the greatest was that we weren't going to hear any old songs. and, for the first couple songs, that seemed to be the case. the set opened with "sandy" and "after hours," which, despite being some of andorra's best songs, are, in fact, cuts from andorra and not up in flames (caribou's best work). i grew trepidatious. however, in the middle of "sandy," i began to come to a realization, one that i only fully reached during caribou's second song, and it was this: live caribou isn't the same as studio caribou. a dazzling feat of deduction, i know. whereas snaith must work like any one man band in the studio, carefully layering looped sounds on top of each other, the exhilaration of a full band - guitar, bass, drums, not to mention snaith's own kit, keyboard, and array of glitchy toys - transfigures the caribou sound entirely.

whether limited by the equipment available or freed from its restraints, live caribou very nearly sounds organic. the heavy reliance on the quirky electro-squeals of caribou's studio work is replaced with dueling drums (in perfect unison), a heavily distorted mic, and an occasional flourish from one of snaith's gadgets. all of their songs, not just the andorran variety, sounded fresh and reimagined, even if it hadn't been necessary. the unexpected vibrancy of the caribou sound in situ ensured that all their songs sounded new and familiar at the same time. when all was said and done, caribou performed more older songs than new ones, not only putting that fear to rest but playing almost everything i wanted to hear (where was the lord leopard?). and even though i knew the songs they played, from "skunks" to "eli" to the penultimate climax of "twins -> bees," the aural difference between live and studio caribou kept the songs even more exciting than they had been before.

this show had a lot of high points, and they weren't just from the songs. as thrilling as their rendition of "barnowl" that was more of a drum-off was, what made caribou's set so exciting was the actual content and performance. with so many concerts, i find that i get the most enjoyment from hearing my favorite songs played. but the changes in the caribou sound meant that i couldn't hear the distorted harmonies in "crayon," the set-ender, or that "melody day" lost some of its recorded charm, leaving me occasionally stranded in the middle of songs. but this was reconcilable. i found my greatest pleasure in watching snaith's feet pump up and down on the pedals of his drum kit, the tinkle of "crayon"'s xylophone, in the sheer aural assault of the two drums playing at once. i did, of course, enjoy the songs, and was visibly cheered when caribou launched into "every time she turns round it's her birthday" as their encore, but watching the performance was just as exciting as listening to it, something i definitely hadn't been expecting from a psychedelic glitch-pop outfit. even a song like "she's the one," which sounds tired and trite on andorra, sounded good with the addition of a new guitar part.

as much as i dig the sound of caribou in my headphones, a live caribou is just as rewarding, not only aurally, but visually as well. i had known that caribou traveled with their own projector and visuals, but had somehow assumed that they would be similar to the marino videos, quirky visual epithets that use the songs as a departure point, not a plot element. well, we weren't treated to any animation or stop-action filming; what we got instead was a barrage of colors and shapes that flickered, mutated, and changed in time with the music. this might be small potatoes if the songs were performed just as they were recorded, but they weren't. while caribou obviously couldn't indulge in any live improvisation, many songs were longer and more intense than their recorded counterparts, yet the visuals were in time here as well, clearly displaying the fact that caribou had spent some serious hours in the a/v studio.

so, do i prefer live caribou to the recordings i've come to know and love? no. there will always be something unique about specific albums and their personal, emotional meanings that a live performance could never replace. but caribou's show monday evening was still something special. the visuals, the drumming, the excitement of not knowing exactly how songs you love will end up sounding - these elements all contributed to the quality of the show. but the best part of it for me was enjoying it so much that i put down my camera so i could just listen. that doesn't happen very often, especially now that i take this blogging stuff so seriously, and the fact that i turned it off and stowed it in my pocket says something about how good it was.

buy all of your great caribou stuff here. catch them on tour from now until pretty much forever.

caribou - "barnowl"

"melody day"

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