prime audio soup
bb king blues club and grill wouldn't be the kind of place you'd expect to see an act like meat beat manifesto. for one thing, the menu contains quite a lot of meat (even the salad!), which makes me wonder what vegan jack dangers ate backstage. speaking of eating, being surrounded by low-lit tables with tourist-looking types ordering (probably overpriced) food while deluged by a distinctively un-bluesy noise onstage was another strange dichotomy.
the opening act was dalek, who went on sometime after the door time of midnight (!) and immediately assaulted the crowd with their own unlikely combination. what appeared to be a standard rapper/DJ duo turned out to wield powerbooks instead of turntables. pumping from the sound system were not the usual hip-hop breaks and funky loops, but gigantic ministry-like drum machines punching their way through a wall of my bloody valentine harmonic guitar noise with a layer of jesus and mary chain circa psychocandy sprinkled on top. as ben pointed out, the vocalist appeared to be a lost younger brother of fat joe and rapped in a style vaguely reminiscent of early ice cube (who, coincidentally, will also be playing bb king's in may). the tatooed "DJ" lip-synched key lyrics, poked repeatedly at his control surface, tweaked an outboard mixer and banged his head like a metal fan. the effect of the music was immediately impressive, but eventually wore a bit thin, as every song used the same basic arrangement. a little diversity and a bit more of a stage show or presence would help them immensely, since they already have a good foundation. at one point the beat dropped out and the noise built up to a prolonged multilayered roaring and screeching, but ben and bianca said what i was already thinking: "you can't hurt us. we've been to merzbow." still they were a decent opening act, more enjoyable than i thought they would be.
the main attraction itself is full of seeming contradictions. a skinny white british guy half-rapping/half-singing over techno-industrial dance music, sometimes with christian overtones, is pretty unexpected. throw in a barrage of bizarre and sometimes violent imagery on two screens and you have a recipe for potential brain overload. unless you're familiar with some of their previous shows, or perhaps those of emergency broadcast network (whose 1995 album telecommunication breakdown was produced by dangers).
usually the most prominent instrument in MBM's music is the drums; complex, driving, relentless except for the occasional roll. however, perhaps because of their recent surround-sound remix album RUOK in dub, the primary mover on this night was bass. huge, loping, subterranean basslines that could probably be heard and felt all the way in jamaica (well, maybe jamaica, queens). for most of the set, the bass turned the fast beats inside out and made them feel slow. the urge to space out was counteracted by the visuals, which included clips from the prisoner and scanners, to name a fraction of the fast-paced imagery that whizzed by. both video and audio from the clips were being manipulated back and forth (similar to a DJ scratching) with two laptops by keyboardist/VDJ ben stokes. they cleverly also had a motor-controlled camera onstage for moving shots of the band and video feedback off the screens. there was also a small camera trained on dangers which was mixed in when he sang. it was somewhat disorienting seeing him from the side singing to the sky while onscreen his enlarged, disembodied head looked directly at us, floating over a maelstrom of video effects. as interesting as the show was, including reworkings of "everything you are" and fragments of "psyche out", the evening wasn't complete until they played "helter skelter."
while ben and bianca said the set wasn't as great as the one last year at irving plaza, it was definitely worth going to.
the title of this post is a song on MBM's album actual sounds and voices, which incidentally was used in the soundtrack for the matrix.