July 5, 2012
Great American Music Hall
Better than: illegal fireworks, and twice as loud.
In an alternate dimension, Liars are THE groundskeepers of the pop music landscape, a dimension where critics and fans woke up from the narcosis of misdirected criticism and general lack of sophistication that caused a world to sleep on The Velvet Underground, did a facepalm en masse, and began to acknowledge great bands in their time.
For better and worse, however, we live in this dimension, the one where Liars, after riding a seemingly evergrowing wave of enthusiasm culminating in a pitch-perfect opening slot for Radiohead on their 2008 tour, receded into the background a bit. The world at large did sleep on their last two albums ('Sisterworld' and their latest, 'WIXIU', pronounced "wish you"), and their stop in SF was moved from The Fillmore to Great American Music Hall, presumably due to slow ticket sales.
One wonders what sort of beast this trio, several years overdue for their moment in the sun and stripped of the massive amount of studio trickery and overdubs that make them nigh on orchestral on record, becomes on stage. A trainwreck of self-loathing? Total pros and creative wizards who are just happy to be here thank you very much? Somewhere in between?
Openers Cadence Weapon, a Canadian emcee with a DJ that Samuel L. Jackson may have also dubbed "Flock of Seagulls", turned in an earnest performance to a 1/3rd filled house. They earned the baseline of attention from an audience that applauded his rhymes without displaying enough enthusiasm to assert that they knew what to make of him. He did however drop some beautiful crooning partway through one tune, displaying an impressive singing voice that truly connected with this crowd and they left the stage to truly rapturous cheers. All told, Cadence Weapon were a superlative act that are certainly earning their stripes opening for a rock band.
Just before 10 PM, an assortment of cool kids and actual kids (the show was all ages) gathered before a stage bedecked with all manner of synthesizers, processors, and hey, even a couple guitars. Happily Liars took the high road of possible presentation outcomes, flaunting their immaculate, aching art rock for a 60%-full room.
Looking every bit the handsome shaved Wookie, frontman Angus Andrew took the stage alongside his polymath mates Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross. It's seriously impressive how much sound these three generate, little of it prerecorded. Rush may be their only competition in terms of the sonic potential of a trio.
From the get-go, this was a heavily atmospheric set. Did I call them a rock band? How many times did they actually pick up those guitars? This was a texture and beats driven set that half the crowd lapped up while the other half nodded in the vaguest acknowledgment that yes, indeed, something was occurring before their eyes.
Speaking of borrowing things from other genres, oh boy, did the crowd ERUPT into an out-and-out mosh pit for the tribal thrum of their 'Drum's Not Dead' material. In general, the heavier rhythmic material connected the best but the wonkier textures provided essential connective tissue even if attentions temporarily waned. It's that kind of commitment to their overall concept that makes Liars at once compelling and a tougher sell despite their more easily appealing aspects.
By the end of the night, one couldn't help but feel astounded by Liars' range as aural engineers. There's few artists speaking so eloquently to the modern condition through a palette as suitably wide to enunciate all the aspects of that condition. It's not the best way to become the biggest band in the world, but here's hoping history catches up with Liars while they're still so remarkably relevant.
Grossed out the door guy by putting my ticket in my mouth whilst
fumbling for my stuff--"Please rip it yourself."
Spotted Cadence Weapon BELTING along to Liars during their set.
Louder than most metal shows. Really.