June 30, 2015
Blonde Redhead is the most fearless band on the planet. Simply compare and contrast their body of work with any band, extant or defunct, and even in artificial light it reveals moments of near-perfection and drastically miserable failures. They lack the formulaic predictability found in bands like AC/DC, whose lead guitarist has not even updated his schoolboy outfit since the '70s, or a contagion of punk bands like GBH. Introduce the band’s self-titled 1995 debut and most recent — and dazzling — release, Barragan, to someone who has never listened to the band, and other than Kazu Makino’s distinctly come-hither croon, and they will arrive at the conclusion that they are being hoodwinked, bamboozled, run amok, led astray.
Therein lies Blonde Redhead’s charm. From Sonic Youth-inspired noise sprawl to Serge Gainsbourg-style cabaret, they embody the best features of their influences. Tuesday night showcased those same features from the band’s catalog to the faithful at a crowded Fitzgerald’s, with a career-spanning set that was one part “hits” and one part gems from Barragan.
Makino and twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace began the night backwards, opening with the quiet serenade of Barragan's title track. Makino’s latter-day use of the mellotron complements the song’s pillow-soft dynamic while Simone Pace plucked his guitar pick-free. “Lady M” followed with melancholy orchestration brought to life onstage. Just warming up, Makino began her trademark hip-swaying steps that often shift the spotlight in her general direction.
A nostalgia trip briefly ensued when the band leapt nearly 20 years into the past, performing the standout track “Violent Life” from their critically-acclaimed sophomore album, La Mia Vita Violenta. Simone Pace and Makino traded guitar riffs while Pace lent his storytelling vocals to the song.
A turning point in Blonde Redhead's career came when Makino was trampled by a horse, and her life-threatening injuries led to her composing the majority of the songs from 2004's Misery Is a Butterfly while convalescing. One of those endearing tracks, the tightly wound “Doll Is Mine,” was performed with brilliant resilience mid-set, trailing off at moments while exploring the delicate territory of space — a much-appreciated terrain found in the band’s post-Misery era.
Few verbal exchanges took place between the band and the audience, except for an apology to opening act Talk in Tongues for the lack of much of a crowd to watch them perform. Such is the time-honored fate and tradition for opening acts. Despite the brief exchange and the occasional thank-yous at the conclusion of various songs, the trio's fandom showered them with perpetual praise.
Back-to-back Misery tracks “Elephant Woman” and “Messenger” reanimated the faithful by taking on identities of their own live. The album’s production value was lost, but the raw emotiveness surfaced with the sampled electronics buried beneath the percussive push and pull. Amadeo Pace’s jazz-influenced drumming is grossly underrated. He tailors his playing to fit each piece’s demand whether it calls for bossa nova or straight-ahead punk rock.
“Man, Blonde Redhead doesn’t fuck around with their encores, do they?”, asked a guy standing next to me. Most certainly, they did not. They seized the opportunity to play an extended version of “Violent Life,” again featuring Makino and Simone Pace furiously exchanging guitar lines. They cozied up to each other, their guitars nearly colliding as Makino’s head tilted toward her instrument with tremendous focus and Pace stared off into the same distance the noise traveled.
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The song that brought the largest swell of cheers from the crowd was “23,” the title track from the band's 2007 album. Makino danced and cooed while the Brothers Pace squeezed the rhythm section like an ox angrily pulling itself out of the mire. The most obviously danceable track from Blonde Redhead’s diverse catalog, it endeared the crowd to do the same. The floor of Fitzgerald's felt like it was going to collapse beneath the audience’s feet, yet the euphoria of the moment prevented the element of danger from ruining it.
The strongly vocal crowd praised the band for their performance. Handshakes and high-fives were exchanged between band members and the crowd. Makino blew kisses goodnight to her fans before the lights were raised above our heads to let us know that all good things must come to an end.