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10/31/2003: "liars/otomo yoshihide"

I checked out Liars tonight, having heard they were an incendiary live act, but was left pretty cold. After a long wait, the lead singer came out wearing white velcro sneakers and this too-small white jumpsuit with something about Sauron painted on the front, and later stripped down to reveal a too-small red rayon thrift-store dress covered with some Op Art-ish pattern. He had this annoying habit of letting his shoulder-length orange hair fall in front of his face, and would then sing through his hair, reminding me of early 90s grunge, aka ewww. He'd dance and pose around the stage as if possessed by the music in a way I found really irritating in this bad-performance-art way -- 'I am the tree'...I found him dull and grating, so I spent all my time focusing on the drumming, which was ACE. In fact now that I think about it, that's what I really liked about Liars when I first heard them -- their sense of rhythm. I can usually find something about any live act, no matter how dire, to admire, whether it's the drumming, the basslines, or even just a cool bit of gear or an interesting outfit. I then focus on what I like and tune out all the things I don't like. This strategy has carried me through hundreds upon hundreds of below-par live shows. (Much as I hated 'em live, I still think that full-length album of theirs from last year -- or was it the year before? -- was pretty damn good.)

After Liars, I swung by Tonic and saw Otomo Yoshihide play a turntable-noize set with Martin Tetreault. They sat on stage making a furious din with their mangled Technics decks, while the assembled crowd sat in chairs, watching them quietly and utterly RESPECTFULLY, sometimes speaking to each other in awed hushed tones between sets. That is what unnerves me, I think, about improvised music in that sort of venue, and is why I prefer to get my noise fix from going to Lightning Bolt shows. You'd think with that kind of extremely ugly and powerful music -- and I really like a lot of Otomo Yoshihide's work -- you'd be pushed by it into the physical realm, to dance or at least move, but not just sit there. I couldn't bear sitting down so I stood up, drinking beer and fidgeting while watching them spin warped records, scraping tone arms into grooves under extreme amplification. After the set I went up and looked at their setup; the tone arms had been cut and gouged and taped up with springs hanging out, the 45s used for the performance had titles like 'Lesson #29'. When I looked at the wrecked decks I couldn't help but feel like it was a waste to 'adjust' a table like that, even for a noise project; I'd been so conditioned by a lifetime of loving record players and fixing broken garage-sale ones to treat them with care and calibrate them precisely, so to see expensive Technics 1200s with their guts hanging out seemed, well, so decadent, and shocked me in a way that seeing a wrecked guitar wouldn't. (I remember reading an interview with Kraftwerk from the late 70s where they bemoaned people who smashed guitars, talking about how long it had taken them to save for Hohner amps and how they couldn't comprehend smashing up their own gear.) I think another reason why I feel this way about tables is that in DJing, you're often interested in smoothness, perfection, a continuous mix, getting things beatmatched exactly. (in other words, a lot of work in an attempt to make everything look effortless!) Even in scratching, perfection is key; there's good scratching and bad scratching, and in hip-hop you still have to stay within the bounds of rhythm. But seeing the brutalized Technics being forced to vomit up horrible noise made me realize that they'd made the record players their own, that they were, after all, just machines to be used by people, not people to be used by machines, and that the flinching they provoked in me when they smashed an expensive tone arm into a virgin piece of vinyl was perhaps part of the point.

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