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  PLAID w/ Nobukazu Takemura and Mira Calix  
  The Echo Lounge  
  East Atlanta, GA  
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Performance Rating:
  (for Plaid) (for everyone else)  
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I was impressed with Plaid's most recent album, Double Figure and i was very curious to see what they would do live. I mean, they are an electronic band with very organic sounding drumming and keyboard work, and live would they actually play these instruments, or would they do it electronically?

So i headed to The Echo on a Thursday night to see a trio of Warp Records bands, with Plaid headlining.

When i arrived at 10:15, the place was already quite full, and opener Mira Calix was already on stage. She had a small "DJ Station" set up on the far right of the stage -- some turntables and gear on a table. She mostly sat behind this and made her music.

I had never heard the music of Ms. Calix before, but i really liked what i heard. Her music varied between deep distorted glitch to mellower beats and drones. A good way to describe it is that she is the midway point between Warp stalwarts Autechre and Boards Of Canada. That might sound harsh and imply that her music is derivative, but that's not what i mean. I mean that she combines the smooth keyboard-ness of Boards Of Canada with the distortion and noise of Autechre, and she does it well.

I found the music to be very pleasant. The stage show, well, there was none. For large portions of her set she was sitting down behind her gear, working at it. I have no idea what she was doing -- she could have been playing solitaire on her laptop for all i know. She had no visuals of any kind, and it seemed really pointless to watch the stage.

This type of "performance" is one of the things i don't like about electronic music: it seems pointless in a live setting. There is nothing to see, no energetic movement about the stage, no chording to watch, no real movement. And there is also no real interaction with the audience.

Mira Calix was on stage making music for about 40 minutes, during which she barely looked at the crowd, and the crowd sort of milled around chatting. There was no applause, partly because the was no "end" to any of the songs -- one tune flowed into another, creating a seamless mix. I think that this mix aspect of her music really worked, but it didn't give the crowd any way to provide feedback, because there were no openings in the music during which it was possible to applaud. Another reason there was no applause is, well, she didn't pay attention to the crowd, so what, really, was the point in the crowd interacting with her?

I dunno. I enjoyed her music, but quite frankly thought that her performing a concert was, well, pointless. There was no performance. Just listen to the CD.

After 40 minutes, Nobukazu Takemora and his assitant, Aki Tsuyuko, came on stage and went to a table laden with laptops at the left of the stage. For about 10 minutes Calix continued to make her groovey keyboard drones while Takemora and Tsuyuko added glitchy sounds overtop. This was an amazing effect -- the combination of their two sounds was really great.

After 10 minutes of collaboration, Calix left the stage and Takemora's set began. Again, there was no real performance to watch -- just two people at a bunch of laptops. However, Takemora is aware of this limitation to his art, and projected some strange animations and film loops on the screen at the back of the stage. This gave the audience something to pay attention to, some reason to actually look at the stage.

And i noticed that whatever Takemora and Tsuyuko were doing, it took a lot of effort. He was moving around amongst the gear a lot. In fact, he looked sweaty at the end of the performance.

I had seen Takemora before, opening for Tortoise last year. I find his music to vary between pleasant glitch and extreme noise. His music works best when the rhythms are fast and the focus is more on the beat than on the noise. However, their are songs wherein pops, clicks, and squeals sound, seemingly at random, over a low drone. I don't like that part of his music so much, and his set seemed to be pretty evenly divided between songs that focus on the beat and songs that focus on the noise.

His set also seemed very short, perhaps a little more than half an hour. However, after his projector displayed "end credits", Takemora got rousing applause. The crowd really seemed to enjoy him, and i admit that i found his performance to be far more engaging than that of Ms. Calix. However, i enjoyed Calix's music more.

Anyway, Calix returned to the stage, and she and Takemora proceeded to do a bit more of their collaborative mixing. Again, i found it very good. In fact, i would say that the two of them together were better than either one alone.

However, even though i enjoyed Takemora's "performance" more, i still found it very lacking. There just wasn't a lot going on, and i was, to be perfectly honest, kind of bored. So i wandered around talking to a few friends and thinking about just leaving to go home. I decided to stick it out and see at least a bit of what Plaid would do, but i did not have high hopes.

However, from the very start of their set, it was plain that Plaid were a little different. Firstly, they stood up at their laptops and gear, thus making them visible to the crowd. Secondly, they had really well done visuals -- film loops that looked prefessionally recorded, as opposed to the amateurish animations that backed up Takemora. And thirdly -- they actually performed songs, not just one long mix. That is, there were distinct breaks in the music, during which the crowd could applaud and they could smile at the crowd.

Just that little but of interaction made a world of difference. Plaid seemed to actually have a point to their performance -- they were real artists who were trying to put on a show for their fans. Calix and Takemora seemed more like people who were making music, and there just happened to be other people in the room. The show up until Plaid seemed almost voyeuristic -- as if i was watching somebody and they were unaware of it. The lack of interaction certainly contributed to that. Plaid, however, seemed to know this and take steps to provide a focus for the crowd. I think that was a brilliant move on their part, because in all honesty if they had simply sat in the back of the stage behind their gear, i would have continued to be bored and probably would have left soon into their performance.

I had come to the show to see how Plaid would perform their work. The answer is that they did do it all electronically. They worked on laptops and mixing boards. In fact, at one point they had a camera mounted on some sort of swivel arm that was focused at what they were doing, and every minute or so it would move, giving a different perspective on their nob-twiddling, mouse-moving action. That was pretty neat.

What really made their show great was their music. It seemed rich and alive, lush and full, not sterile. I think maybe this is because their music is built more out of loops and less out of heavily computer-processed sounds, as opposed to, say, Takemora. Much of what they played sounded unfamiliar to me, but i did recognize some of it from Doubla Figure. The songsl worked really well, with thundering rhythms and funky drones and tones. Very well done and very enjoyable.

So i am very torn about this night. I enjoyed the music, but up until Plaid i was questioning the very necessity for "live" performance of electronic music. Plaid however, pulled it off wonderfully. I hope that other electronic artists learn from them.....

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