Friday, October 26, 2012

Who Missed Out?: YACHT and The Presets

Two bands that I just don't "get": YACHT, and The Presets. Luckily for me, both of them played the Metro tonight, and I was there. No, I'm not being sarcastic. Whenever I hear something that I don't immediately enjoy, I take it as a cue to listen more. It's like the first time you watch Naked Lunch or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. You don't understand why anything is happening, but you can't dismiss it for that reason alone. So I was looking forward to giving these bands another chance in a live setting.

So YACHT. They're pretty much the B-52s of indie rock. Depending on your taste in music, that's either amazing or horrific. I lean towards the latter. It's raucous and weird, spazzy and frenetic. Lead vocalist Claire Evans does a decent amount of talk/sing, and a lot more dramatic body movements. Oozing with sexual energy, she wiggles and winks, points to everybody and extends her limbs in all directions, all the while wearing the tightest black dress the Metro stage has ever seen. This is all great, she's a hell of a performer. But sometimes it's a bit too much, to a creepy point even. During one song, Evans was putting her hand on the foreheads of people up front, pushing off like she was their faith healer. She later asked the crowd if anyone had any questions. What would David Bazan say? I can't tell how earnest it is. If it's a gimmick, I don't know what I'm supposed to take away from it. But if it's all sincere, then it's a serious case of "trying too hard."

Then there's the message of YACHT, or whatever is going on with their lyrics and banter. When it comes to songs about living your own life, loving yourself and the moment, and spiritual well-being, I just cant' shake the Switchfoot cobwebs. But with exuberance, YACHT sells this super-duper-positive message during and between every song.  The new-agey extroversion of all this is too much for me. I don't really want my forehead touched, nor do I want to ask a band a question during their show. But plenty of people in the crowd seemed fine with it. Nobody stormed off. It all seemed to be in good fun. I just didn't get it.

Then the Presets. As far as Modular bands go, this is the one I've never been able to get into. Something has always sounded off about them. Give me Cut Copy, Sneaky Sound System, or The Avalanches, and I will dance. But the Presets just make me wonder, "what's the angle here?" Imagine if Joy Division still existed, but only played in River North clubs that offer bottle service--this is something like the vibe I get from the Presets. They have all of the elements of an exciting dance pop duo, but they're just not utilizing their tools properly. Their light show must be hugely expensive, but, the stuff on the four matching LED screens just looks like images from a MacBook screensaver. It's like if Dirk Diggler had only just been an underwear model for Hanes. The Presets have so much potential, but I want to see more.

Maybe I'm not being fair. Or, maybe it's just not my thing. Either way, it's hard for me to say where these two acts belong right now in the world of music. I don't hate either of them, but I can't figure out how to enjoy what they're doing. I guess I still can't watch Naked Lunch or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas all the way through either.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

You Missed Out: Grimes

(published at Heave Media)

We've all seen these electronic musicians that press play on their laptop and dance around on stage. We're never impressed. Nor we should be, because it's a cop-out (especially in EDM. But that rant is for another time). Grimes does plenty of knob-twisting, but she is actually something much more than another hack artist. She's just an artist.

Stuffed animals are strewn about the stage as Grimes comes out to her sold-out crowd. Two backup players open the set with her, two girls wrapped in something like cellophane on either side of the stage. A couple songs in, two more girls crawl (literally) out onto the stage wearing nightshirts and pink and teal wigs, with black makeup on their faces. As Grimes sings one of her hits, "Circumambient," the girls crawl toward each other. They meet in front of Grimes' keyboard, one starts playing with a stuffed dolphin while the other brushes her hair. By the next song, the two are engaging in some light choreography, standing to dance to the chorus of "Oblivion." For the lyric, "see you on a dark night," they point out to the crowd then smack their ass in unison on "night."

It might sound a little bit weird, but the performance aspect of the art made the Metro stage an interesting place to look at. The music had a similar effect, melodies that were fairly off-kilter but beats that were easy to dance to. Grimes moved around a lot, loosening up her crowd more and more as the night went on. About halfway through her set, half a dozen burly, bearded gay guys started dancing really hard in front of me. Half of them took their shirts off; proud bears having unrelenting fun. Pretty soon after, the entire main level of the venue was hands in the air, jumping up and down, going all out nuts for the art.

I went upstairs to try another view for "Genesis." On my way up, I accidentally stepped in a puddle of puke. A Metro employee apparently tried to tell me, but it was too late. We both shrugged and I peered over the crowd at the balcony. At some point during the puke incident, I missed a bunch of balloons that were thrown into the crowd. The opening acts were now on stage with Grimes too, dancing and tossing the stuffed animals around. Various Pokemon and Teletubbies nearly tapped the ceiling. And the audience was out their minds. It was one of the most enthusiastic Metro crowds I've ever seen.

Grimes didn't talk throughout the entire set until the end, and by the time she did her crowd was screaming for ecstatic joy. It was probably the loudest I've heard it in there since I happened to see the All-American Rejects during their "Swing Swing" peak. Sorry, not to be a downer there. Grimes' show was worth the thunderous applause. After introducing her band, she explained to the crowd that she doesn't like how bands go offstage and then come back for an encore, so she said that she would just play her encore song and then end the show right then and there. The crowd cheered. I cheered. Who are they kidding with encores anymore? When it was over everyone left so satisfied that not a single "one. more. song." chant was on anyone's mind.

We need more artists at the Metro. Chicagoans love art. And we really love Grimes.