My second show of the week at Prospect Park (after Grace Potter and the Nocturnals) started off negatively: it wasn’t free. Now it’s hard to bitch about that since charity stood to benefit from our ticket purchases, but someone should have said what charity we had all shelled out $30 for. A worthy cause I’m sure, but which? I pondered that during the first group I saw (long lines prevented many attendees including myself from catching Chin Chin’s set), thinking the cause better be pretty damn good to make me put up with Gang Gang Dance
Things immediately got off to a shaky start. Gang Gang Dance slowly trudged into an Animal Collective-esq ambient intro, wavering synths and irregular drum pounding getting the crowd ready for the beat to drop. But it never did. This bunch of seemingly random noise turned out to be the actual song. The band seemed bored.
As they continued to sound like an Air record played backwards, they totally belied their name – I’ve seen crowds more inclined to dance at a Phillip Glass show. Could this be a joke? Was the band doing a last-minute soundcheck during their set, cleverly pretending it was a too-smart-for-you song? If this sonic seizure was an attempt to win over Brooklyn’s indie hipsters (who, too be fair, are often into that sort of thing) the band overdid it.
Rhythm surfaced during moments of the one-hour-that-felt-like-ten set, and occasionally even a tune. Though the latter could have just been hallucinations caused by brain cell suicide. The lead singer’s dolphin chips were no dream though; she seemed to be playing for those of the opinion that Björk is just too conventional. The guy behind me mocking her random vocalizations actually sounded better than she did.
By set’s end a few in the crowd had actually tried dancing, perhaps believing that that was the key to enjoyment. From the pained grimaces on their faces though, their efforts proved in vain. The only person enjoying the show seemed to be the guy who ran onstage waving a garbage-bag flag erratically. At a Gang Gang Dance show, that seemed downright normal.
It’s a testament to TV on the Radio’s drawing power that the aural insult of Gang Gang Dance only briefly dulled crowd enthusiasm. The five-piece came out swinging with “Shout Out Loud,” frontman Tunde Adebimpo pogoing around the stage liked a hopped-up Jack in the Box while he crooned over the band’s jerky electro-soul. A four-piece horn shadow added the all-important melodic element to balance out the synth blips.
Well, I assume they did – due to TV on the Radio’s notoriously bad concert mixing, they were inaudible until five or six songs in. The band took a lot of heat for a horrendous-sounding Saturday Night Live performance some months back, but it seems the man behind the boards has learned nothing from the experience.
Bad sound only encouraged the crowd to sing along even louder. Were TV on the Radio playing an audience unfamiliar with them, the sound problems could have been catastrophic, but with this crowd they only proved a minor annoyance for those of us who wanted to hear the songs we love, not just imagine them.
With the energy these guys bring, aural imaginings supplemented visual reality. The dour-looking Kyp Malone – possessor of the best beard in rock – confounded expectations by periodically leaping into the air while producer-cum-guitarist Dave Sitek looked over the proceedings like a proud parent, singing along to every word though he wasn’t within ten feet of a microphone.
This band may have five members, but in the end it really is the Tunde-Dave-Kyp show. The latter even took over vocal duties on songs like “Crying,” his balladeer croon melting your heart with every drawn-out sigh. But whenever things threatened to get too beautiful, Adebimpo roared in with some “ba ba ba”s, defying the band’s complicated attempted at sonic landscaping by just turning “Halfway Home” and “Wolf Like Me” into sing-along rockers. For a band that could so easily verge into the pretentious, the man is essential to remind everyone that rock and roll is fun.
Not surprisingly, the set list leaned heavily on last year’s Dear Science, the record that topped every best-of-the-year list except mine (though it did make the top twenty). Singles “Golden Age” and “Dancing Choose” brought the soul groove in a way older tunes often did not, standing up stronger live as a result. “Red Dress” and “DMZ” slowly built to Malone’s climactic vocal turns, passion seeping through even the thickest of beards.
One can only hope Gang Gang Dance stuck around to watch this set. For by the time the band brought family and friends onstage to percussion-jam along with "A Method," TV on the Radio had shown how to walk the fine line between electronic noise and funk bounce. It seems you can please hipsters without totally abandoning the idea of making music people might actually enjoy.
Photos by Bao Nguyen (via BrooklynVegan)
Shout Me Out
The Wrong Way
Wolf Like Me
Blues From Down Here
Staring At the Sun