Live Review, 2/25/12: Atlas Sound's Bradford Cox Encounters His Younger Self at Bimbo's
Christopher Victorio Atlas Sound's Bradford Cox at Bimbo's on Saturday.
Feb. 25, 2012
Bimbo's 365 Club
Better than: Honestly, I've never seen anything like this.
Tonight, and likely at all other Atlas Sound sets, some clever dude shouts at Bradford Cox before the first chord of his set:
"Play something sincere, Bradford!"
Cox probably gets this all the time. Maybe not this exact phrasing, but certainly the concept. He is the quintessential, quizzical modern songwriter. His work is as densely layered in personal and societal themes as it is in harmonic vocal tracks or bass and guitar loops. (This is the case no matter if he's performing as Atlas Sound or with Deerhunter.)
There's a chilling silence in the crowd when Cox sings tracks like "Parallax." He performs without much, if any, interaction in between songs. His eyes are closed when he approaches the mic. If not, they look down at his instrument. Nine songs into a perfectly enjoyable set at Bimbo's on Saturday, this was the story being written in my head: An "intimate" evening where Cox wowed the crowd with his "soundscapes" and everyone was gripped by the "emotion" on stage.
But then, a funny thing happened. There's an extended break after "My Angel Is Broken" as Cox waits for his acoustic to be restrung. Someone shouts, "We want to live, Bradford!" He responds, telling us playfully he's not here to hurt us while strumming softly. "I won't hurt you. I won't hurt you...
"Anyone know that one?"
I sure as hell didn't; assumed it was a made-up riff with some jokey lyrics. But someone in front of the stage quietly responded with exactly what Cox was looking for. Not only the correct band -- The West Coast Experimental Pop Art Band, by the way -- but from the absolute right place: a thin 13-year-old boy with shaggy brown hair and a nondescript hoodie. Cox initially offered his mystery responder the beer from his lips before pausing when he finally saw him.
"How old are you?"
He later called what happened next "a transcendental fucking journey." Cox invited the boy on stage to play maracas as a more parental-guardian-friendly prize, but stopped in his tracks immediately when the kid hit the stage. Fuck. The boy stood there awkwardly, Cox paced around frantically covering his mouth. "Can't you see it? I saw that face everyday when I brushed my teeth."
Bradford Cox had just met Bradford Cox, the spitting image of his 13-year-old self at least, in front of a live audience. No matter that when his guitar was properly restrung, we weren't getting another song quickly.
This moment lasted 20 minutes. During this exchange, the boy forever became Matt Doppelgänger to those in attendance. Cox spent several seconds simply searching for words to describe what he was experiencing. Ultimately, he sat Matt down and offered life advice both genuine ("Spend more time with your parents") and slightly less than ("Avoid heterosexuals"). There was a hug; there were awkward jokes about masturbating. When Matt Doppelgänger said he knew the song because he saw Thee Oh Sees cover it, Cox flipped. Naturally, he too knew it because Cox saw Stereolab cover it when he was 13. Eventually, the two regrouped to finish the night with a duet of "Terra Incognita," with Doppelgänger instructed to guest on percussion "whenever it feels right." It was genuinely moving.
The buzz after the show was overwhelmingly positive. Cox closed the night saying he ultimately cut the set by three or four songs, but the singer (and most in attendance) had no regrets. Surely some must've been annoyed seconds into it, but they missed the point. Bradford Cox let down his guard completely and delivered one of the most genuine, authentic moments you'll see at a live show. He was no longer the mysterious, removed poet. He was ecstatic to connect with someone.