Last Night: Liars at Slim's
Liars, Fol Chen
April 27, 2010
Better than: Mischievous art-punks who put out an album of grating noise accompanied by rambling about witch trials and then take themselves seriously.
Liars give creepy a good name. King Creep Angus Andrew -- who sings and is about a hundred feet tall -- stomped onstage at Slim's last night in a faded black T-shirt and black jeans (what other color?) just as his band pumped through the apocalyptic desert of "A Visit From Drum," which builds ominous tom-tom trinkle over ominous tom-tom trinkle until you think the world's gonna end. Andrew manned the keys and squeezed his eerie falsetto into the mic, and it was all moody and dark but surprisingly easy to take: Tom-toms soon gave up heralding The Final Storm, the song ended quietly, and the hipster crowd howled with approval at what seemed a pretty tame entrance for a band so provocative.
But soon the classic Liars creepiness came: lyrics about witches and blood and the wrongness of L.A.; all of it issued with a ferocity and detail that matched their (mostly) acclaimed albums. Freed from the keyboards after the first song, Andrew slithered and strode around the stage, taunted the crowd, coddled his mic stand, played air guitar. His dance fully utilized those long and gangly arms: When the music got loud and chaotic -- which, thankfully, was often -- Andrew's body bent everywhere, with his forearms shaking free at the elbow and hands waving wildly at the wrists. This silly, panicked chicken-dance got the kids in front all in a frenzy last night.
Clearly, Liars don't take themselves too seriously. They seemed kinda like they'd gone off the deep end with that second album about witches, which some thought was unlistenable. Nope -- last night the (admittedly rearranged) songs from "They Were Wrong So We Drowned" were highlights. One made for a morbid lullaby: "Fly, fly, the devil's in your eye, San Francisco," Andrew barked. Liars even closed out the night with an anthemic rendition of "Broken Witch," the whole room shouting "Blood! Blood! Blood!" (But keeping things campy, Andrew crouched into a comical bear imitation when the song's lyrics called for it. I think a few people even laughed out loud right then.) Newer songs also sizzled, especially "The Overachievers" and "Scarecrows on a Killer Slant," whose reckless punk energy incited an almost-legit pit. And there was that great turn-of-the-corner in "Scissor" when the ambience combusts into sonic warfare, which again had spastic Andrew shaking like a rooster trying to outrun Farmer John.
Julian Gross banged a fearsome drum kit and fueled last night's uptempo numbers. Aaron Hemphill did keys and guitar with, if anything, improvements over the way the group's albums sound. The NYC-via-Berlin-via-L.A. trio got help last night from two members of opener Fol Chen on bass and guitar. They clung together on the left side of the stage, their young faces looking bewildered by the dark energy exploding out of Liars' songs. But when encore time came around, the three not-truth-tellers did it all themselves. "It's kind of an orgy but now it's a threesome," Andrew giggled with the crowd, adding yet another brand of creepiness to Liars' considerable repertoire.
By The Way: I saw Liars on the "Drum's Not Dead" tour and they were good, but not as good as they were last night.
Personal Bias: I'm pretty sure this isn't the venue's fault, but shows at Slim's begin and end too damn early for my taste. There was still a long line of people waiting to get in during opener Fol Chen's set -- me among them -- and Liars concluded at 11 p.m., if not a few minutes before, which is kinda tame even for a Tuesday.