Thursday, October 11, 2007

subtle @ warsaw, 10/5/07

this show was a new experience for me, the first time i went to a gig purely to see an opening band. but what an opener! subtle, "the alpha band of doseone & jel," the masterminds behind mr. mammoth faces 13 & god, cLOUDDEAD, and themselves, brought their twitchy, spastic rap-rock to warsaw last friday night, supporting seattle's minus the bear on their national tour. still touring in support of last year's for hero: for fool and yell & ice (their upcoming remakes and remixes collection), subtle may also have dropped some songs from the forthcoming exitingARM. i was worried that subtle would have difficulties adapting their studio sound to the live environment, but they navigated those waters most successfully. fronted by doseone, a charismatic rap maniac, subtle ferociously tore through their forty-five minute set, doseone's rhymes blasting and the music churning.

i was (and remain to be) sincerely perplexed at subtle's spot on this tour. the college-rocking post-emo popsters in minus the bear bore no musical semblance to subtle's sound, and, were it but for subtle's far-too-infrequent touring schedule, i imagine most of their fans would have skipped this show. bookended by ela, a band that can be best described in the words of one audience member ("i think you're ok!") and minus the bear, subtle's inclusion in this tour can only be called bizarre. i got a chance to talk to doseone after the show, and he said he really appreciated the chance to get to meet new people, and, indeed, i overheard a passerby asked "who is that?" despite for hero: for fool's brilliance, it's critical reception was lukewarm at best, and subtle's desire to branch out is justified and understandable. however, minus the bear? i couldn't understand it at all.

subtle opened the show by paying suitable homage to brooklyn, to which the crowd reacted with expected positivity. while brooklyn is home to every other band in existence, it seems, and crowds enough to match, few expected the guest who came onstage for "deathful," a leaked track from yell & ice. maybe doseone needed to introduce tunde adebimpe, since so few people cheered when he announced the tv on the radio vocalist. adebimpe appeared and disappeared without a word or a wave, but their collaboration spoke volumes.

subtle's mystique is all-encompassing. from the eerie skull bust (painted with black and white stripes) at the front of the stage to doseone's velvet sash of plastic forks, subtle is stylized. enigmas permeate their live performance, their recorded work, their artistic presentation. yet, despite their seeming inscrutability, subtle (especially doseone) were accessible and friendly, chatting with fans before and after the show and manning the merch table, filled as it was with a half-dozen subtle releases, three or four solo efforts from doseone (including a book of poetry), and a solo album from jel. so rarely has prolific seemed such an understatement. killing time, i flipped through doseone's poetry, finding an image of the fork there as well. doseone was happy to explain the significance of one of subtle's most universal props, a piece of iconography cherished by fans. "the fork is the spirit animal of the american consumer," he explained, after having pelted the crowd with fistfuls of the utensil.

subtle's black and white aesthetic is visually profound and arresting, visible on both for hero: for fool's cover and doseone's chest (and, of course, the skull). less complex than the fork mythology, doseone explained subtle's preferred color scheme in a typically enigmatic fashion, calling black and white "the only real colors." though patently untrue, the stark juxtaposition of the two accentuates and emphasizes their aural dissonance. the skull is said to be of hour hero yes, a character who appears on both subtle LPs.

necessarily different from their studio work, due to the crippling injuries programmer dax pierson received several years ago, subtle's live performance is nonetheless captivating. with the exception of cellist alexander kort, every player in subtle multitasks, whether it is jordan dalrymple's triple duty on drums, guitar, and vocals, or marton dowers' mix of synth and sax. it was exciting to see subtle trade instruments every few minutes, let alone every song, but what was most compelling about the show (unsurprisingly) was doseone, and his seemingly endless array of props. the forks were really only the beginning. he frequently interacted with the bust of hour hero yes, going so far as to mime cutting its throat with a knife during one song. he toyed with a set of false teeth, another skull (this one resembled yorick), and a handful of other toys and gadgets too small for me to see. doseone twitched with an energy that could not be human - even cokeheads aren't this spastic. his veins standing out on his forehead, doseone continually vaulted from one side of the stage to another, rapping with incredible energy. in fact, getting pictures proved to be something of a challenge, as he rarely stayed still long enough to get a shot off.

subtle is art. you can disregard the mystery, the enigmas, the self-wound mythology, and you'd still have a fantastic band, but it would be only half of the band. subtle traffics in appearance - they really put on a show, an act for the viewer. it winds its way around your head, asking questions and posing hypotheses that are as much a part of subtle as their music. the live performance should always give you something more than a copy of an album; that's why you bother to see a band live. subtle brings everything they have to the table, throws it at you (along with a fork or two for good measure), and let you work it out. subtle is as much a visual and intellectual stimulation as an aural one, a provocative aesthetic they vehemently believe in. it's not a stretch to say that subtle stands alone - the only bands that sound like them have subtle's own members in them. if this tour is directed at new fans, and i don't doubt that it is, then subtle certainly deserves them.

subtle (feat. tunde adebimpe) - "deathful." buy all subtle merchandise direct from their store.

subtle - "f.k.o."

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