September 30, 2010: Washington, DC
I was pretty happy when I first heard that the Books were about to go on tour with a stop in DC. The suger on all of it was that their opener would be the Black Heart Procession, a band that I had tried to see but missed on several past occassions. Tickets were purchased without thinking twice. Unfortunatley, I had more than one thought about why I never should have bought the tickets after the fact.
Mydisappointment with this show started almost immediately. Black Heart Procession was not the full band, but rather just their lead singer (and presumably the main artist behind the band's work) and one accompanying musician. I knew before they even started that they wouldn't be able to produce the sound that I grew to like on Amore del Tropico. They couldn't; they didn't. The disappointment was even greater because I had lauded them and that album in particular to some of my companions that night.
It wasn't just the music though. Behind the duo was a projection screen, which I had to assume (and later confirmed) was only there because it was an integral part of the Books' routine. I imagine there must have been a phone call from the Books to the guy from BHP that went something like "Hey, we're going to have a blank screen for our set and you're welcome to use it for yours." And I'm pretty sure that didn't happen by email becuase after what I saw, I'm not sure the guy from BHP actually knows how to use email. The projection turned out to be a collection of 20 or so images that were undoubtedly collected from a Google image search on terms such as "death", "darkness", "morbidness", "cemetary", and "vampires". There were a few images that didn't fit that bill, such as this one, but the rest stayed within those general bounds. They were then thrown into PowerPoint or something. I have one positive memory of the BHP portion of this show and that's that he plays a saw. You don't see that everyday. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen it at an actual concert. Still, once their set was over, I couldn't help think that someone had kidnapped me and placed beside the second stage at a state fair.
On to the Books...my memories aren't as clear as for BHP. I do remember that the normal duo was touring as a trio. That gave me some initial encouragement, because they too would be hardpressed to create their normal, fully arranged sounds without some extra hands and/or a lot of laptop support. And so the three got going and things were more or less OK. Their visuals were fairly well put together--but that may have just been the result of contrast to BHP's PowerPoint presentation! Seriously, they had some decent video clips that took a lot of attention to synch with their music. And their choice of clips seemed to match fairly well with the dream-like, abstract content of their songs. But after having seen a similar, but far more precise and elaborate presentation by Cornelius only a months earlier, it was hard to fully appreciate this one.
It's on the laptop/non-human support side of things where I ultimately felt unsatisfied. They had a laptop that pumped in a lot of extra sonic snippets. That was fine though--they are afterall laptop musicians and its the creative use of loops etc on their recorded stuff that endeared them to me. They also used a drum machine for all of their percussions. That's not inherently a problem for me either. I've seen bands like the Kills do great performances with heavy assistance from a drum machine. The problem this time, as I remember it, was that the drum machine--it's slightly unpredicatble start time especially--seemed to control them, more than the other way around.
I still listen to several of the Books' recorded albums on a regular basis, particuarly Thought for Food and the Lemon of Pink. I still recommend them (ideally with a set of headphones). I also still listen to Black Heart Procession, although far less since this disappointing performance. Maybe the economics didn't work out, but both could have benefited from some additional live musical backing. The Books in particular could have used a drummer.
I had some sad and fearful thoughts about live music after this show. To be clear, this one was not the initial or only instigator (cough, Crystal Castles), but I was believing more and more that most of the artists that I liked--at least those that relied on laptops and various other electronica--just weren't worthy of a live ticket price. Fortunately, I would have a few shows to follow that nipped that fear in the bud (namely Ratatat), which just goes to show that being a good artist in a studio doesn't necessarily translate at all to a live performance. In the computer age that may seem obvious, but I've found it easy enough to forget too.