May 9, 2012
Better than: Listening to Bradford Cox perform "My Sharona," or your
Ghetto Cross bootlegs.
1. "Can we borrow a bass?" 2. "This is our last song." 3. "I'm sorry we only learned eight. Next time we'll learn more. Thanks."
It's a standard journalism practice: Gather quotes, use one at the top of your piece, then weave them throughout. It helps the reader feel like they're at the scene, adds an authenticity only achieved by being in attendance, and offers a glimpse at what someone is really like.
One thing becomes loud and clear when catching Pundt's side project. On the continuum of all things Deerhunter, there's Bradford Cox's solo outfit, Atlas Sound, at one end. Cox's live performances and oeurveare well-documented as being very open, biographical, and personal. The original band (Deerhunter) lies in the middle, blending some of Cox's personality with more uncertain and entrancing entrancing passages of rock.
And then, there's Lotus Plaza. If you think the lyrics off Spooky Action at a Distance are minimal, you're onto something. Pundt offers direct interaction only when necessary, leaving no doubt what the focus is when catching the band live -- atmospheric, intricate arrangements of music.
As odd at this sounds, Lotus Plaza is completely engrossing. It takes an extremely orchestral approach (unintended I presume) to the live experience. The performers on stage create an all-business aura and a feeling of gravitas without any between-song banter. Lotus Plaza would be fine playing tracks like "Untitled" all evening, but musical conventions mean vocals come into play. And while Pundt is an adept singer, you can tell where Deerhunter gets its hypnotic edge by experiencing these songs live.
Rickshaw Shop may be the best local venue to catch Lotus Plaza. The intimate space allows the sound to envelope an audience. You get lost at times in extended intros or solo sections, as precise guitar lines sync perfectly with a repetitive beat and an overarching keyboard. Even one of the night's few unplanned moments -- a bass string breaks, Pundt issues Quote No. 1, bassist must run to the back and borrow from the openers -- gets lost within the music. Pundt simply nods to his colleagues and starts on an extended intro to "Splendor of the Sea," one where a bassist re-entering and then tuning goes unnoticed amid the growing soundscape.
It's hard to tell if Lotus Plaza's approach is intentional. With the way Pundt gets lost in his guitar playing, the focus on the music appears to be more like survival. This is a band learning to hone its live show. The shy guitarist is now thrust in front of the mic, but he can dictate pace of play and audience interaction within his comfort level. Pundt, in Quote No. 2, demonstrated a showman's instinct by ending the night with "Jet Out Of The Tundra," an uptempo piece that captures some of the driving ambience that makes Deerhunter so unique and appealing. The band offers an extended jam to end the night, and leaves without much fanfare. The audience remains, slowly building the reaction you'd expect for an encore. But Pundt merely comes on stage with a beer in hand, offers Quote No. 3, and apologizes.
It's not an attempt to be funny, but rather a moment of genuine, charming awkwardness. He's still trying to figure out this part of the gig -- how to be what the spotlight's focusing on. Lotus Plaza's performance shows he's got the hard part down. The music is tight, and the band has an incredibly balanced sound when you consider how layered most tracks are. But there's a reason Deerhunter leaves the flare to Bradford Cox. Lotus Plaza is a similar, but different beast. That's okay, even if it leaves you wanting a little more at times.
1. Out of Touch
4. Come Back
5. Splendor of the Sea
8. Remember Our Days
9. Jet Out Of The Tundra
Someone had to say it: A lack of banter doesn't mean the crowd won't try to interact with the singer on stage. Between every song a duo would yell, "Lotus fucking Plaza," with something specific to the song that just concluded. The best came after "Eveningness." How good was it? "I would fucking eat this shit."
On the horizon: Opener Wymond Miles certainly looks like a classic rock star with all the hair, but the music carries that vibe, too. His voice approaches Bowie at times. It'll be interesting to hear his first solo LP, Under The Pale Moon, when it debuts in June. The Fresh & Onlys' guitarist is S.F.-based, so expect a chance for more.