Hot Chip Brings the Cheese, Sleigh Bells Bring the Guawk
@ The Warfield
October 17, 2010
Better than: Spending the same amount of time waiting to get off Treasure Island.
London's Hot Chip came on the scene (our scene, anyway) circa 2006 with a song called "Boy From School," and it's made nice work of holding on to that image ever since. Throughout its various electropop involutions, this keening, non-threatening vibe has served the band well; perhaps too well, in that it borders between non-threatening and innocuous, and between innocuous and boring are blurry bits of ontological geography indeed. I for one never paid much attention to Hot Chip, probably for that reason. Maybe also a little bit because I didn't care much for their name.
Now then, about last night. First of all, the Warfield serves nachos -- customizable nachos, no less -- and, if there was a eureka moment worth reporting for your correspondent, it was the notion of, you know, eating hot chips while watching Hot Chip. (Didn't happen, but the very possibility was enough to move Hot Chip one notch toward "appetizing" in my book.)
Second of all, Hot Chip bring it live. This weekend was awash in stage adaptations of electro-pop acts, and this one was at least as compelling as Miike Snow's, without the creepy face masks. (HC singer Alexis Taylor was wearing a sequined-elephant-festooned baseball cap that my stepmother also owns, but that was an entirely different, altogether more non-threatening kind of creepy.) At six strong -- only one more than their current operational lineup, mind you -- they breathed more life into their songs than I've ever found on record: something about the distribution of sounds, maybe, or the refreshingly schlubby keyboardist-cum-cowbell guy, or the non-stop dancing other-keyboardist, or the drummer. The drummer! God bless the touring drummers of electronic-based bands, you know? Their rhythmic precision, their interminable fours-on-the-floor, their tireless muscle memory.
Anyway, Hot Chip. Tight and energetic, totally cheesy but in full ownership of the cheese. [Ian, please insert a callback to the nacho paragraph here.] The aforementioned "Boy Next Door" was a great example, whipping the evening's coke-chic crowd into ass-shaking frenzy immediately after an overlong between-set interlude; "Take It In," from this February's One Life Stand, also gained a kick-ass alternative crunch somewhere along the EMF-Jesus Jones axis. It wouldn't be right to say the live set showcased Hot Chip's range, because the albums do that just fine: it's more like it brought into sharper relief what, in the absence of real live dudes, tends to sound a little flat to me. Or put it this way: the "K-I-S-S-I-N-G S-E-X-I-N-G C-A-S-I-O" part of "Over and Over" never sounded quite so meaningful before.
It worked the opposite way for openers Sleigh Bells, a Brooklyn-based duo comprising an ex-girl-group singer and the guitarist from Poison the Well. I dig what they do on premise alone, their abrasive rawk riffs and their prettily dazed female vocals and the complete lack of buffer between the two -- if the idea of a classically trained M.I.A. fronting Fuck Buttons holds any appeal to you, consider this a recommendation. (M.I.A. helped hype the band, co-releasing its debut, Treats, on her N.E.E.T. Recordings label.)
But their eight-amp stomp was vaguely unsatisfying in person, for the same reason Hot Chip's six-gentleman reverie hit the spot: where was that sound coming from? Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss thrashed about the stage, he with a guitar and she with a microphone, but one had to take their juddering, stroboscopic word for it that they weren't just playing their album really, really loud. Saving grace: their album sounds terrific really, really loud. Try bumping their closing number, "Crown on the Ground," and see what happens. If it makes you want to go see Hot Chip live, you're more complicated than I thought.
Critic's notebook: If the Loma Prieto earthquake were a person, to paraphrase Miranda July, it'd be doing 21st-birthday shots tonight. Also, what's with the Hot Chip T-shirt of R. Kelly with a Devo power dome photoshopped on?