Django Django and Night Moves at First Avenue, 3/16/13
With Night Moves
First Avenue, Minneapolis
March 16, 2013
For their debut Minneapolis performance, the U.K. electro-pop sensation Django Django eschewed the more modest local introductions of their fellow Mercury Music Prize nominees (and eventual winner) Alt-J, and brazenly scheduled their initial Twin Cities show at the prodigious First Avenue. That bold move paid off big time, as the young London-based quartet easily sold-out (with the help of local openers Night Moves) and ultimately electrified the Mainroom with a polished, propulsive 70-minute set that got the early St. Patrick's Day revelers who packed the club dancing the night away.
Night Moves channel the past
While Minneapolis's own Night Moves have made plenty of prominent waves themselves within the music scene as of late, it was interesting (and a bit endearing) that frontman John Pelant still chose to introduce the band to a local crowd that was still familiarizing themselves with the band. But hopefully they made plenty of new fans after their road-tested and soaring 40-minute set, as their relaxed, throwback rock sound washed over the full house. The eight-song set started with a gloriously expansive version of "Country Queen," one of the clear standouts to their breakout debut album, Colored Emotions. The elegant sonic textures of the chorus took flight in the club, and easily won over anyone unfamiliar with the band coming in.
"Family Tongues" (which the band still affectionately calls "Cosmic Titties") was a triumphant early set highlight, and featured some deft guitar work from Pelant. The group also mixed in a couple new songs which fit seamlessly next to their older material. But it was the dynamic closing trio of "Horses," "Headlights," and "Colored Emotions" which really showcased Night Moves' impressive talents, as the songs really took on a confident, self-assured edge, a positive result of all the touring they've done in support of their record. And they don't show any signs of slowing down, as multi-instrumentalist Mark Ritsema proudly announced at the end of their stellar set that they would be back really soon (April 24, in fact) as they hit the road in support of another breakout Minneapolis band, Poliça.
The swelling crowd gradually grew more spirited in the half-hour break between sets, but when Django Django finally bounded on stage, with frontman Vincent Neff exclaiming excitedly, "Hello citizens of Minneapolis," that tension was released immediately. The quartet performed in front of an elaborate backdrop of blinds, light bulbs, and circles that lit up according to the tempo and tone of their sound, a nice visual touch along with the band's matching black button-up shirts. But it was ultimately the Django's stirring songs and not their fancy stage set that sold-out the club in the first place, and we were all anxious to hear if they could successfully pull off their rich, layered music within a live setting. And the hotly-tipped band didn't disappoint, filling the club with the enormous pulsing tones of "Introduction," which gradually gave way to the swinging rhythms of "Hail Bop," just as it does on their self-titled debut.
Django's live sound was far more textured and massive than it is on record, which gives the numbers an added dynamic essence which proved to be rather intoxicating and irresistible. "Storm" took on a hypnotic, towering beat led by drummer David Maclean, clearly echoing elements of the Beta Band, which featured David's older brother John. Indeed, the brothers must have dabbled in the same intoxicants during their musical upbringing, as their respective bands certainly contain plenty of experimental sonic similarities, with Django's music coming across as far more fun and funky in comparison.
"How are you doing, Minneapolis?" asked Neff as the performance really began to get heated. "We are very excited to play at this famous club. We've been looking forward to it for months. And, since it's St. Patrick's Day, this is a song about getting drunk." A lively version of "Firewater" quickly followed, taking on a '60s garage-rock churn in a live setting. But it was a gargantuan rendition of "Waveforms" which proved to be one of the clear highlights of the set, as the percussive track took on a moody, electronic edge that filled the club. The lyrics of the song were projected backwards on the screen behind the band, looking like modern Rosetta Stone hieroglyphs. As the band extended the song's infectious, rhythmic coda, Neff addressed the audience, "People of Minneapolis, it's St. Patrick's Day, you're here, we're here, and I've got just one question for you. Are you going to move your feet to the beat?" And with that the group kicked the cadence of the song into overdrive and the crowd dutifully danced in time to the booming beat.
Neff again took an appreciative moment to recognize the significance of the club they were playing, "It's such an honor for us to be standing on the stage that Prince has been on." And indeed, the surroundings might have inspired the band to be more funky on this evening, as most of their songs took on a sultry vibrancy that isn't as noticeable on record. A Latin-flavored rendition of "Love's Dart" and an acoustic take on "Hand Of Man" (complete with drums being played on a cardboard box) slowed things down just a touch as the set briefly started to sag.
But Neff snapped the set back to life once again, asking us, "Okay, people of Minnesota -- are you going to come up with us, high into the sky, until we arrive at a place we call Cairo?" That ushered in the Middle-Eastern infused rhythms of "Skies Over Cairo," which found Neff and bassist Jimmy Dixon joining Maclean on various drums on stage, while Tommy Grace added sonic flourishes on his trusty synths. The track turned First Ave's dancefloor into a roiling, rhythmic mass, and the band only fed off that energy. The momentum only grew as the Django's eased into the familiar strains of their smash hit, "Default," which truly set the place off. It was gratifying to see a Minneapolis crowd actually dance for once, as everyone was clearly swept up in the moment.
Neff then introduced the band, with both Maclean and Grace hailing from Scotland while Dixon is from Leeds. Neff himself is from Derry, Northern Ireland, so when he said that spending St. Patrick's Day with us was "better than being in Ireland, to be honest," you knew that this was turning into one hell of a party. After a somewhat plodding version of "Life's A Beach" (one of the only missteps in the set), Neff took a moment to talk to the crowd one last time. "We'd like to thank the local boys in Night Moves for playing with us. Local boys done good. And, our fellow Londoners, Veronica Falls, are playing over in Room Two (the Entry) tonight. We love them, you should check them out if you can." Indeed, Veronica Falls are rather amazing, but sadly, the timing just didn't work out.
Neff introduced "Wor" as their last song of the night, to an expected chorus of boos which he playfully encouraged. "We've only got one album. We'll come back when we have more songs and hopefully we'll be lucky enough to play First Avenue again." And with that, the band closed their main set with a guitar-driven version of "Wor," which featured a frenzied energy that saw the band off to a loud ovation. Neff had a few last words to share with us though, "Thank you Minneapolis. You've been tremendous. See you in the future. Maybe. Now go get shitfaced."
Those humorous words of advice played in a loop until the band eventually returned to the stage for a brief encore of "Silver Rays," a vibrant, keyboard-laden track that ended the night on a total high note. While some might have questioned whether Django Django should have picked a smaller club for their Minneapolis debut, this thrilling performance proved that they have earned the right to play First Avenue any time they want.
Personal Bias: While I enjoyed Django Django's self-titled debut album, their live show is an entirely different experience. I've been fully converted.
The Crowd: Packed with people who have been partying for a while and were looking to get down.
Overheard In The Crowd: "They put on one hell of a show for 15 bucks."
Random Notebook Dump: The blinds that formed the backdrop for Django's show reminded me a bit of the setup behind Beach House on their last visit to First Ave.
Hand Of Man
Skies Over Cairo
Life's A Beach
Silver Rays (Encore)
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