Rock and Roll Hotel, 1353 H St NW, Washington, DC
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
It's been a year and a half since I first caught School of Seven Bells at 9:30 Club, opening for Fujiya/Miyagi. This night they were headlining and Active Child opened.
In concert, Active Child is really two children playing parallel in a sandbox. There's a harp (fuck me, right?) and a couple of Macbook Pros. So that's what it takes these days. It's hard to imagine what a band rehearsal must look/sound like, two twenty-somethings heatedly bouncing in front of their laptop screens, feeling rad and beautiful at the same time. I got more Top Gun-theme off of them than I'd expected, and since I was already wearing my flight suit, I figured fuckin-A, right? My main problem was with the drum and bass side of the equation. There didn't seem to be enough of either. To quote my friend Dave, and I'm not sure he expected to see his name here, " we're watching the definition of a talent differential," referring to the harpist, Pat Grossi, and his mate. But for my dollar, dance music has to be more sympathetically sexualized and less androgynous. Put another way: bump and grind, not bob and mope.
I like Active Child's recorded work, but live on stage at the Rock and Roll Hotel, the act felt a bit thin. Pat Grossi can sure as hell carry a note in both his native baritone and his falsetto, but I never found a sense of the emotional reverberations of similar bedroom-laptop artists making their way around the interweb this year, melancholy or otherwise. Where Washed Out infuses his work with a perfect sense of post-college dread--future, what future?--left behind by friends and peers, working out the meaning of things back in his childhood bedroom; Active Child sounds like he's pleading with his step-father to buy him another new Range Rover after he wrecked the first one. It's probably that Active Child just isn't what I'm looking for in my eighties throw-back bands. I need my pretty music to have a rusty edge to it. I need to know that Phil Spector's got one round in the chamber, and he's willing to wait all night.
School of Seven Bells, on the other hand, is reminding me a whole lot more of Ride from the Today Forever EP, a personal favorite. It seems like with the absence of the twin (Claudia Deheza), Ben Curtis is driving harder on the guitar, straining the already spindly notes further; and although I wouldn't brand SVIIB's new sound as shoegaze, it does send my thoughts across the pond. Ben's more confident, out front, moving around the stage, and not hiding behind attractive twin sisters and lighting effects. And I like it.
"Windstorm" has more in common with any of the tracks from Alpinisms, relying on samples, loops, and the sisters' vocals as much as any from their first album. It's also more stripped down. On stage and on record, the band doesn't seem to be dealing with the same vocal harmonics that were the trademark of tracks like "Wired for Light" and "My Cabal." Alpinisms feels at times like an experiment in resonance manipulation, while Disconnect from Desire seems to be veering generic for a larger audience (and not in that bad way I might usually mean).
Alejandra kept dropping her guitar (was she done with it, or was she just not playing it to begin with?) in favor of strange hand gestures that seemed to be trying to draw attention away from the music and towards her face, which I suppose is not a bad move to pull. She doesn't quite have the range that her sister provided in the past, and somehow she seemed less compelling on this go around than the last. I already know I'm a freak for conjoined babies in a jar, so maybe this is that thing. Also, there was a drummer this time. And, god, did he sound like Phil Collins (the other Phil) hitting play on a drum machine, completely spot-on with the rhythm and totally ready to win your heart.
I can feel it coming in the air tonight
And I've been waiting for this moment all my life
Active Child :: Wilderness
SVIIB :: Windstorm