Liars at First Avenue, 7/17/12
With Unknown Mortal Orchestra
First Avenue, Minneapolis
July 17, 2012
The music of Liars has always been tough to pin down. Their brand of untamed, dissonant experimentalism is impossible to compartmentalize or copy, talents that their fans certainly identify with. The trio has now taken another unexpected left turn on their dark, restrained new record, WIXIW, which pulses with a moody electronic edge and a despondent undercurrent that gives the tracks a rather morose core.
Liars brought those new tunes and more to First Avenue on Tuesday night, delivering a hypnotic, but at times uneven, 65-minute set that highlighted their tumultuous musical past while giving clear evidence as to the new direction they are currently taking their sound.
The performance took a while to snap to life, as the sedate opening number, "The Exact Colour Of Doubt," was plagued by sound issues, and "Octagon" failed to find much of a groove. But once the tribal dual-drums of "Let's Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack," kicked in, announced emphatically by frontman Angus Andrew's primal wail, the set and the slowly building crowd got the spark that was needed.
The title track to Liars new record really shows how deep the band have traveled down the electronic rabbit hole, with both Andrew and Aaron Hemphill (looking resplendent in black suits and ties) settling in behind keyboards as they lead the doleful song forward. Once Julian Gross' drums joined in the musical fray, the track truly took off, while always remaining tethered to its throbbing, downbeat electronic elements.
"Scarecrows On A Killer Slant" really injected some much needed energy into the set, after a melancholy rendering of "Ill Valley Prodigies." The wild rhythms and discordant riffs breathed some life into the performance, and got both the crowd and Andrew dancing around in time with the track's frantic pace. "Brats" kept the energy level high, as Gross came out front to play keys while Andrew lost himself in the song's bristling urgency.
After a somewhat plodding version of "Who Is The Hunter" once again brought the energy level of the set down a bit, the band went back to their stellar 2004 release, They Were Wrong So We Drowned, for the first time in the night, dusting off a blistering rendition of "Hold Hands And It Will Happen Anyway" and the performance caught fire once again.
A truly mesmerizing run through of "No. 1 Against The Rush" quickly followed, with Gross picking up the bass while adding to the track's throbbing allure. Andrew thanked the small but dedicated audience before the last song of their main set, introducing it by saying, "This is an old song that we probably played once in the Entry way back when." He then dedicated a raucous version of "Pillars Were Hollow And Filled With Candy So We Tore Them Down," to their current tour manager and omnipresent Twin Cities music fan, Robyn Lewis, which brought a nice local flavor to the show.
The band took a brief break before the encore, just long enough for both Hemphill and Gross to lose their suit jackets. Then Andrew joined them, excitedly announcing that, "Aaron got a Prince tattoo backstage before the show," as the band launched into their feisty encore with an uproarious rendition of "Broken Witch." The trio really had it in high gear at this point, and closed out the set with an explosive version of "Plaster Casts Of Everything" which got nearly everyone on the main floor moving along with the insistent rhythms of the incendiary number.
While the older songs got the biggest reaction from the audience throughout the Liars magnetic performance, the new numbers proved to be much more cerebral and entrancing, crafting lots of tension without the inevitable release that punctuates much of the band's best material. It's a drastic, dynamic shift in sound for the band, but definitely one that can captivate a crowd right along with their earlier work.
Personal Bias: I try to never miss a chance to see Liars perform. Hell, I even followed them to the State Theatre in 2007 when they opened for Interpol.
The Crowd: Small but passionate.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I wish all musicians would wear suits when they perform."
Random Notebook Dump: Openers Unknown Mortal Orchestra delivered a rousing opening set that overcame nagging bass issues that drowned out much of frontman Ruban Nielson's sprightly, often stellar guitar work. "Thought Ballune," "Ffunny Ffriends" and "How Can You Luv Me?" all soared, and a riotous run through of "Nerve Damage!" gave some punch to the end of their 40-minute performance.
The Exact Colour Of Doubt
Let's Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack
Ill Valley Prodigies
Scarecrows On A Killer Slant
Who Is The Hunter
Hold Hands And It Will Still Happen Anyway
No. 1 Against The Rush
Pillars Were Hollow And Filled With Candy So We Tore Them Down
Broken Witch (Encore)
Plaster Casts Of Everything (Encore)
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