Ghostland Observatory at First Ave, 9/10/10

Ghostland Observatory
September 10, 2010
First Avenue, Minneapolis

Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen

If you're a nightlife junkie, sometimes all the concerts that you've seen start to run together to the point where you're not sure what band pulled off that amazing cover, or which show had that lead singer jumping into the audience.  But no matter how many events you've been to, you'd be hard-pressed to have a Ghostland Observatory set blend into the background; it would take effort and an obscene amount of alcohol to forget seeing them. 

For a band with only two members, GLO cranks out a formidable amount of energy, both in terms of Thomas Ross Turner's throbbing synth lines and Aaron Behrens' spastic, shaking showmanship.  On paper, the fusion of electro, glam, soul, and garage rock seems comically overstuffed, the product of ADD dilettantes who can't settle down and focus -- but, hearing it (particularly in a live setting), you start to realize that the duo has zeroed in on the libidinous electricity running through each of those genres, distilling it down into something that doesn't have a name, but sounds as sticky, raw, and hot as sex itself.

Both last year's tour (which stopped at the West Bank's Cabooze) as well as this year's sported an obvious lack of opening bands.  GLO didn't bring another group on tour with them, opting instead for local DJs to start the night.  2009 saw Jonathan Ackerman warming up the crowd, while Bach 666 took the opening duties this time around, playing a mix of new and old club favorites.  Moving from disco to modern house music to R&B and back again, Bach provided a little something for everyone while the audience gave glimpses of its age and taste, going bonkers for Benny Bennassi's smash "Satisfaction" and readily singing along to Ace of Base's "All That She Wants," but barely mustering a shuffle for Joy Division's classic "Love Will Tear Us Apart."  No head-down melancholy dance party was going to do it for this lot -- they were amped, and they wanted bangers.

First Ave was busy, but not sold out, allowing for a little room to dance or walk around the edges of the crowd.  Guests didn't have to cut through a swarm of people or step on toes to get to the bathrooms, but when the lights went down and Bach's last record began to fade, a small stampede pushed its way towards the checkerboard dancefloor, sweeping anyone in their way into the growing mass of fans at the center of the club.  Turner and Behrens took the darkened stage amid cheers from the audience and some droning, wordless beats of their own design.  The pair fiddled with gear, their backs to the audience, making sure that all of the equipment was in working order.

And then there was light.

Ghostland Observatory at First Ave, 9/10/10

Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen

Impossibly vivid lasers poured from five separate points on the First Ave stage, washing over the audience in a wave of color at the exact moment the band unleashed a monster beat.  The start of a GLO set has always been an audio-visual rush that demands you sit up and pay attention, and there was no deviation from a history of spectacular beginnings.  Bass pumped, guitar squealed, and an ocular overload started to scramble neurons, making it hard to focus on any one thing, but easy to lose yourself in an impressive display of lights and music.  You've got to credit GLO with knowing the limitations of a two-man setup on a larger stage; Turner's got plenty of work to do at the keyboards and drum machines, leaving just Behrens to shake and shimmy, so the lasers are there to provide a more brilliant spectacle than the two could conjure up on their own.

GLO started out with some new material from their upcoming record, Codename: Rondo (due out October 26th), which didn't deviate from the band's formula of driving, synthetic beats paired with bluesy guitar and Behrens' mile-a-minute wailing.  The duo pressed on without a word between songs, letting the heavy bass and rigid drums do their talking for them.  Delving into some more familiar material like "Piano Man" and "Vibrate," Behrens and Turner gave the audience the high-octane dancefloor destroyers that they were so obviously craving, inspiring a few guests to jump up and try to reach the lasers shooting just over their heads.  Still, the band managed to pack a few surprises, bringing out some new, unheard material (the band has kept quite a close eye on their new album, taking care to squash any trace of leaks) and extending older songs with instrumental asides and crowd-taunting false stops.

Not content to just open strong, the band had a spectacular finish, standing the massive chords of the excellent "Heavy Heart" right alongside a cover of Prince's "Darling Nikki," which wasn't as tuneful as the original, but still a treat (even if it wasn't a Minneapolis-only nod--they've been playing it live for a few months).  An encore that included crowd favorites "Sad Sad City" and "Rich Man" along with an unreleased closer ended the evening just after midnight, a little early for some, but in spectacular fashion nonetheless.

Even with the new songs, GLO's power still resides in their ability to highlight the body-moving thread that runs through each of their influences while pumping their personal assets up to extreme levels, then keeping that level of energy running high for the entirety of the performance. Older fans who knew the drill weren't disappointed, but the newcomers were giddy and animated, with plenty of overheard "Oh my God" comments being made as the crowd filed out.  They'll be talking about this show for days to come.

Personal Bias: Love the GLO live show, but some of the studio work can get a little samey and directionless.
The Crowd: An interesting mix of bros with backward baseball caps, well dressed girls, and a variety of hipsters.
Overheard in the Crowd: "May joyous Rainbow Brite fill your soul with cupcakes!"
Random Notebook Dump:  In a tribute to Turner's signature cape, there are a couple of lookalikes in the audience, but no one with Behrens' trademark braided pigtails--not even Behrens himself.
For more photos: See our complete slideshow by Anna Gulbrandsen.

Set List:
Piano Man
Ghetto Magnet
Stranger Love
Got to Feel Me
Codename: Rondo
Midnight Voyage
Move With Your Lover
Heavy Heart
Darling Nikki (Prince cover)

Sad Sad City
Silver City
Rich Man
Last Dance

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