Perhaps there’s a reason Blonde Redhead prefers to play in the shadows.
The trio of singer Kazu Makino and identical twins Simone and Amedeo Pace have been at it since 1993, creating noise-rock and dream-pop that can snarl and seduce. On a small tour built around the band’s appearance at FYF in Los Angeles, they decided to give the Regency Ballroom crowd something special: the first-ever full performance of their 2000 album, Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons.
Apparently afraid that their friends and loved ones might not believe what they were witnessing, many people in the crowd brandished smartphones with aggressive abandon. Each time Amedeo raised his arm to strike a note, and with every thrust of Makino’s ankles, they were forced to enjoy the moment through the prism of a screen.
Before the flash-mob paparazzi descended, opener Porcelain Raft (aka Mauro Remiddi) treated the early arrivals to a short set. Not entirely dissimilar from an Italian Ben Gibbard, the sound of Porcelain Raft is built around electro-pop ballads that bubble and shine like the Postal Service after a few shots of Fernet.
By the time Blonde Redhead hit the stage, a hoard of would-be Ken Burns concert documentarians were all in place.
Technology grievances aside, it was a pleasure to see the group on stage dig into the record that preceded two of their most well-known albums: 2004’s Misery is a Butterfly and 2007’s 23. With Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, the band finally silenced any critics who had complained their early output was merely the arty younger sibling of acts like Sonic Youth. With Lemons, Blonde Redhead allowed some warmth to seep into the noise, to let hooks and the drive of Simone’s percussion drive them to somewhere all their own.
Blonde Redhead live is cathartic and a touch eerie. More than just seeing the same face simultaneously behind a drum kit and across the stage stroking a guitar, the music they make is melodious yet angry, a constant elixir of changing moods that makes for reliably engaging concerts.
Backlit with copious fog, the forms of Makino and Amedeo shadowbox with sound, the former adept at slinking dance moves that make the fact that her beret never left its perch atop her head a minor miracle. In essence, Blonde Redhead are chemists constantly reinventing their favorite recipe: a bubbling, dark atmosphere that is quickly neutralized by the incessant blight of wobbling iPhone screens.
While four albums and 17 years have elapsed since Lemons arrived, Saturday night’s experiment was not the dated, perfunctory affair that some full album performances can be. On the contrary, the choice to revisit Lemons seemed far less a desperate solution for a band that has run out of ideas and much more the celebration of a band confident enough in its fans and standing to try something out of the ordinary.
Perhaps some day soon we too can risk the unfamiliar and leave our devices where they belong: far away from the temporary world we enter when the lights go down and the shadows begin to dance.
Melody of Certain Three
Hated Because of Great Qualities
Loved Despite of Great Faults
Ballad of Lemons
This Is Not
For the Damaged
Where Your Mind Wants To Go
Doll Is Mine