Last Night: Blonde Redhead & Thee Oh Sees at the Independent

Categories: Last Night
blonde red small.jpg
Blonde Redhead and Thee Oh Sees
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The Independent

Better than:
Slowdive and the Cheater Slicks.

It was a strange bill, that was for sure. On one hand, you had a moody, meticulous, international trio who build lush pop songs on fragments of human and electronic languages. On the other, you had a jittery, jangly, broken-angled punk band from San Francisco cranking out twisted pop songs on fragments of rough riffs and feral yelps. And yet, somehow, last night's show with Blonde Redhead and Thee Oh Sees worked, as a synchronicity formed between two very distinct sets of musicians. One riled up the id, while the other slowly stroked the ego, and together they bookmarked two extremes with one memorable show.

Of course, you could take things down to the basics: Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino came onstage with two glasses of white wine. Thee Oh Sees' John Dwyer's liquid of choice was the loogie, which he launched in a spray above him repeatedly (amazingly never hitting himself or nearby locomotive drummer Mike Shoun, although I wouldn't want to clean the stage after their show). But both bands have played enough that their sets are supertight -- the only lulls in energy coming between bands when Makino's keyboards needed extensive tweaking. And the evening's other constant -- a very excited fan by the stage, throwing his hands skyward like he was praising Jesus the whole night -- helped cement the idea that you can indeed appreciate right- and left-brained music in the same night. 
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Thee Oh Sees
Thee Oh Sees -- a band I've probably seen more than any other in the last couple months, due to the sheer number of shows it's been doing lately -- kicked off with Help's greatest hits. Per usual, Dwyer wrestled his guitar like he was bending a giant sheet of metal, pulling it up to his chin, bending over to push it off on his amp, and generally (manically) animating playing that six string to higher lowbrow levels of entertainment. His face contorted as much as his frame, and his voice -- well there are sometimes four or five Dwyers on the course of a set or a song. These little men inside the bigger man deliver yowls and howls that range from falsettos to growls, his perfect foil being tambourine smacker and backing vocalist Brigid Dawson.

Thee Oh Sees shook the crowd loose, and after a long break Blonde Redhead came on stage not to excite, but to seduce. Makino and twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace perform under the mantra that more is more (as opposed to Thee Oh Sees' raw attitude). Under this law Blonde Redhead blossomed beyond than three people on a shoegazing rollercoaster. They were elevated by a matrix of electronics, ranging from drum machines (that snuck trip-hop and disco into their sound) to synths and sampled backing vocals (in the encore it was very strange to see Makino's mouth closed as she let her sampled self "sing" as she stuck to the backing vocals).

The effect was much grander than I'd expected. From the moody drama of the trio's albums, I had low expectations for a sedate live show. Maybe it was the volume, but their set crashed down perfectly on the crowd, culled from the best tunes off 23 (including the  title song, "SW," and "Spring and By Summer Fall") and older material alike. There was little banter with the fans, save for a thank you to the night's sponsor, the Bicycle Film Festival.  But Makino was demonstrative in other ways, shaking her long hair loose from a ponytail, writhing just enough with her instruments or her mictrophone. There was a lot of energy in the band's set, and even though it didn't spike as high as Thee Oh Sees, it burned with a singular intensity that overtook you just the same.

Critic's notebook

Personal bias:
So I know this is silly, but I've never seen identical twins in person before. I admit to being totally tripped out by the Pace brothers. It was like watching a split screen.

Random post-show detail: You only think you're sick of hearing Michael Jackson songs. But then last night, walking home from the show, you stumble past a Haight Street shoe store, all locked up except for the staff and their friends inside, who are singing and dancing -- loudly -- to "Smooth Criminal" at 11:30 p.m. Random stuff like that makes  you think, yeah, I can do with hearing a little more Michael again.   


Also: 
I forgot to add in my original post that Thee Oh Sees and Blonde Redhead perform again tonight at the Independent.

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