Dntel at Triple Rock Social Club, 8/11/11
Dntel August 11, 2011 Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis
Live shows by electronic artists are a tricky, delicate animal. Unlike music that is recorded with instruments, the songs--though they may move all over the place in terms of tone, pitch, mood, etc.--exist in what is essentially a vacuum. When they are recreated live, the space for error, flourish, or adding a small "oomph" to a song here or there is removed and the shows often quickly become stale, no matter how much you might like the band's recorded work. Dntel's set at the Triple Rock Thursday was a perfect example of that.
Dntel (aka Jimmy Tamborello) is maybe best-known for being one half of the Postal Service along with Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard. Their Give Up album from 2003 became a fairly large hit and was nearly pitch-perfect from beginning to end. This owed no small debt to Tamborello, who constructed its catchy, glitchy beats. As Dntel (a project that started in 1999), Tamborello creates music that travels the same streets, just in a different lane and in a slightly flashier car. Opening with "Umbrella" from 2001's Life Is Full of Possibilities, the set started out strong but quickly devolved from there. Part of the problem is in the music itself (music that, to be clear, I happen to love on record). It's downtempo, glitch-filled IDM, and while it's fun to listen to when hanging out at a party or driving, listening to it live didn't really add anything to the overall experience. It was essentially standing in a room filled with mostly strangers while Tamborello played selected tracks of his own work for us.
In Tamborello's defense, it's hard to make these songs more than they are. He recorded them with just a Mac and a mixer and that was exactly what he had up on stage with him. You can't dress the music up with live instruments or anything extra because the songs would ring false immediately, losing the power of what attracted people to it in the first place. However, these facts remain: every album Tamborello has recorded, most of which have been pretty amazing, and the simple, stripped-down manner in which he has recorded them have also quietly painted him into a corner from a live standpoint; he was just a guy pushing buttons on stage and it's hard to get past that, because that's what he did to create these songs.
A few bands--Daft Punk in particular--have found ways of getting around the clinical nature of their recording processes to elevate their live shows into something spectacular. Dntel has not found a way to do this quite yet. Overall, the set wasn't terrible, it just wasn't anything more than the sum of it's parts and was possibly a little bit less given Tamborello's penchant for running two to three songs together, which created a weird, vaguely unpleasant aura around the show.
There is a scene in David Cronenberg's The Fly in which Jeff Goldblum's Seth Brundle sends a steak through the Telepod as a test, then asks a companion to taste it and it tastes awful. Brundle then comments, "The computer is giving us it's interpretation of a steak. It's translating it for us; it's rethinking it, rather than reproducing it, and something is getting lost in the translation." That's an imperfect metaphor for the Dntel show on Thursday, but in the end I definitely felt like I had taken a bite of that steak.
Critic's Bias: I discovered Dntel as a result of the Postal Service and realize they aren't the same beast, but I often prefer Give Up over a Dntel record for background-type music. The Crowd: Tons of guys who seemed like they'd know a lot about Doctor Who. Overheard In The Crowd: "This is great but I wish I'd brought some ecstasy." Random Notebook Dump: Are there encores for bands like this?
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