Atlas Sound at the Cedar Cultural Center, 3/02/12
With Carnivores and Frankie Broyles
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
Friday, March 2, 2012
View a slideshow from the concert here.
Love it or hate it, the modern indie blogosphere has the tendency to fixate on the personas of buzzed musicians. On one end of the spectrum sits Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino, ripping hits with her surf-punk boyfriend as Snacks the cat inadvertently poses for Twitpics. And on the other -- somewhere in a lair of loop pedals and seclusion -- lurks Deerhunter front man Bradford Cox.
Following a stream of, um, weirdly dismal press circling the Atlas Sound (his solo project) release Parallax, Cox has been presented as a bizarre, indie Prince of Darkness. Much of this can attributed to the irreverence of certain "content farms" but it's surely also linked to his unabashed candor and self-professed "stream-of-conscious" approach to all facets of his life. It can be hard to sift through all of the exploitative hype but -- as evidenced by Atlas Sound's Friday performance at the Cedar -- both his music and his demeanor speak authoritatively for themselves.
Of all the Deerhunter-worshipping acts that could have opened for him, fellow Georgian (and indie tween heartthrob) Frankie Broyles snagged the spot. Equipped with just a guitar, a pained, Chris Martin-esque voice and some pedals, he delivered a short but commendable set. Though his music was a familiar brand of poignant, acoustic catharsis, his delivery was strong and his use of technology added necessary dimension. Other openers Carnivores rocked a little harder, their punk roots wholly evident as they powered through a lively set, keyboardist Caitlin Lang commanding the stage with wild-eyed enthusiasm.
And then there was Atlas Sound, but more fittingly, Bradford Cox. To be fair, things felt a little awkward the moment he initially stepped onstage, his face utterly concealed by a menacing, black, ski mask. But, as he purposefully prepared an intricate guitar-looping framework and launched into "Parallax," all was temporarily forgotten.
Photo by Mackenzie Orth
The first part of his performance was completely spellbinding. He's a musician of astounding talent and it's much more salient when he's in the raw. His rich, resounding vocals carry more weight when they're the central focus of the music. An elongated rendition of "Te Amo" proved to be the most striking part of the evening, leaving the Cedar audience silenced and in awe of the multi-dimensional orchestra of guitars that one man was creating with his loop pedals. This wonder carried through eight songs, mostly drawing from the recently released Parallax, but also including material from 2008's Logos (in a moment of brief excitement he even teased us with the intro to Deerhunter's "Desire Lines" before transitioning into "Walkabout").
He also offered a particularly emotional cover of Beat Happening's "Youth." It was the performance that everyone knew he was capable of and, had it ended with his last original song, "Mona Lisa," the audience would have left completely fulfilled and dismissive of any aforementioned blog gossip.
But then, per request of an obnoxious audience member to hear "My Sharona," things got strange. The transition was stark and instant, as if Cox suddenly felt mocked or distrusting of the audience he had gradually opened dialogue with throughout the course of the night. He obliged to play the song, which at first was generally entertaining. He employed his looping skills again, picking up different instruments along the way and inviting the openers to join him onstage. But it morphed into something bizarre, a unending cover that rivaled the length of a Phish concert and let's get real: "My Sharona" isn't exactly a "jam track."
It was interesting to observe the reactions of the openers. Initially the vibes were positive. The musicians, all fairly young, were clearly honored to be sharing a moment of spontaneity with someone they idolized. 35 minutes later that enthusiasm began to fade. They were visibly uncomfortable and beginning to question the sanity of their esteemed proctor, unwillingly locked in some twisted, Doomsday clock performance of a '70s hit. Yet, "My Sharona" endured still, as did Cox's increasingly awkward interactions with the audience. He asked people to take their clothes off. He shouted seemingly intoxicated defenses about his art. He simulated fallatio. He, to the horror of the Cedar employees, told everyone to pick up their chairs and shake them above their heads. While this behavior in another context could have been viewed as "rock'n'roll" it was unsettling and some people began filtering out of the venue. Eventually, after inviting the audience onstage (which visibly gave the Cedar staff an anxiety attack) he seemed to get the picture that the show was over and bid his adieu, dedicating the show to "the death of folk music and the birth of punk."
Update: Here's a pretty awesome segment.
It's unclear to decipher what sparked the change in what began as a truly unforgettable performance (really, it was incredible). Atlas Sound at the Cedar was unforgettable, definitely, but it's disappointing that it was for strange reasons and additionally, that, contrived or not, it was facilitated by the artist himself.
Personal bias: I'm a steady Deerhunter and Atlas Sound fan. Also, I've always really, really hated the song "My Sharona."
The crowd: twenty-somethings mixed with an alarming amount of tweens. The world is changing. It's weird.
Overheard in the crowd: "I wish he would just play his own songs. They're so great! This is going to give me night terrors!"
Youth (Beat Happening cover)
Modern Aquatic Nightsongs
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