Saturday, October 22, 2016

Rhythm Stick

I've been in Dallas over a year now but this past week marked my first concert here.  As someone who used to go to multiple shows a week, this is a bit of a change.  Reasons are various but living in the burbs definitely makes things a bit harder -- after commuting to work and back it's so much easier to call it a day than to go back out again, but I managed it on Wednesday and didn't really regret it.

Nicolas Jaar finally induced my return to the nightlife.  Not an artist I've ever really listened to, bar possibly hearing some mixes at some point, but he does electronic stuff and is pretty well respected, so that was enough to get me out.  Plus there's a part of me that doesn't want to give up going out and hearing new things.  Add to that tickets to the show at the Granada were pretty cheap and I found a couple of friends to go with.

The show proved to be a bit of a mixed bag, which wasn't entirely down to Jaar.  It started out alright, with some very loud ambient sounds that verged on this just this side of cheesy (rainfall and bird sounds were present, so...); the other problem with that initial segment was it just seemed a bit too abstract.  There was a decent crowd present, and this section, which was probably somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes long, got me thinking about the live experience when it comes to electronic music.  What I've noticed is that crowds at a concert have certain built-in expectations, and it's hard for electronic artists to meet those expectations.  Even when I used to go to Motor lounge in Detroit, if the DJ that night was a big enough name a significant part of the crowd would just be facing the DJ booth instead of dancing; at a concert that's billed as live that's almost 100% the case, but more often than not there's nothing much to see.  Artists make up for that in various ways -- extensive visuals, random instruments to make things as "live" as possible; but others just have a bunch of machines and a laptop and stand behind them.  So, in the absence of anything to see, I think a crowd is at least looking for something to grasp on to aurally -- hit them with abstract ambient for 20 minutes and you end up with a bunch of people who are basically waiting for something to really happen, and they'll happily whoop if you just drop a big slab of bass.  Which is what happened at the Granada.  Unfortunately, right at the point that I think Jaar had planned to introduce some beats and more danceable sounds, there was a technical issue which ground everything to a halt for around 10 minutes.  The show then lost all momentum so that by the time the music started again most people were on their phones or carrying on conversations.  Kudos to Jaar then for being able to turn that around and get people re-engaged.  The fact that from that point on everything was far easier to dance to really helped; a 25 minute segment towards the end really stood out in that regard.

Jaar has quite a range of musical styles, which I hadn't expected (well, I didn't really know what to expect).  Apart from the ambient stuff he also had some disco bits, house, bass music, tropical beats, and techno.  In a couple of tracks he even picked up a mic, adding and looping his voice into the mix.  The crowd, I think again responding to traditional concert cues, loved it; I liked it too,  mostly because those tunes were great.  Jaar gave a good sense of playing his music live, which is another area I think can be challenging for electronic artists.  There's a need to properly convey that some risks are being taken, that someone isn't just hitting 'Enter' on a laptop and then noodling around.  Not all artists are successful at this aspect -- many don't do enough to justify the live tag, while others go too far and up playing jazz!  For me, Jaar found the right balance, but, as mentioned before, it didn't make for much of a visual experience, other than when he was singing.  The stage set up was two banks of machines and a laptop, with Jaar solo and pretty obscured behind his gear.   Fair enough as I suspect few artists can afford to take a really good visual set-up on tour, but I think even arranging his equipment differently could improve things.

To sum up, it was a decent show let down by one technical problem.  After that issue the sound didn't seem the same; it sounded like a speaker was blown and the music just wasn't loud enough for me.  The show lasted about two hours; I do think Jaar could clean things up a bit and make the show tighter and more focused.  As far as what I want from my electronic live experience, there was a visceral quality that was missing for me; I'm looking to be hit hard by something just nuts, and that didn't happen.  Not Jaar's fault, that may not be his thing, but I feel like I'm looking for something and not finding it.  I got a glimpse of that something in the latest album by Hieroglyphic Being, but unfortunately the track only lasts a minute and 10.  I think what I'm after is a massive four-four beat that's been messed with, played at ear-bleeding volume; the search for that aural high continues.