Blonde Redhead Warehouse Live November 29, 2010
The trio of lead vocalist Kazu Makino and twin brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace sonically sailed their way into Houston last night to open up their vast palette of musical and visual colors for a packed-out crowd. Many in attendance had anticipated this particular show for months, purchasing tickets far in advance to pay homage to Blonde Redhead's modernly romantic and haunting sounds.
The stage was set with giant photo umbrellas casted in a gold sheen, resembling open flowers. These soon reverberated the blossoms of sound that started at as a low drone and opened up into a flood of guitar strums, electronic blips, polyrhythmic drumbeats and droning bass, as Makino's angelic, otherworldly vocals wove in and out of each song.
Otherworldly is the strength of Blonde Redhead's sound, especially on latest album Penny Sparkle. Monday night, the only hints of the more raucous Sonic Youth type-vigor of the group's mid-'90s releases was the faint jangle of the guitars.
Blonde Redhead's atmospheric sound has hypnotized fans from every musical walk of life, and completely engulfs Sparkle, from which most of the 90-minute set (give or take) was drawn. Makino emerged with a bizarre white mask that resembled an ancient man with long white whiskers.
The mask kept us from seeing her face just as the opening kept us from really putting our finger on what emotions or sounds we were feeling or seeing. The ambiguity wasn't frustrating, though - It was freeing.
The deep bellows of the bass that shook the souls of those present were fully present in one of the opening songs, "Black Guitar." A male/female vocal duet, this dialogue of sadness and bittersweet airs guided us through a soundscape comparable to the eeriness of a black-and-white film noir scene.
Other Penny Sparkle tracks ("Oslo," "Here Sometimes") grounded the groove into something more rhythmically concrete, as the band's signature barrage of beats clicked and danced their way into the audience's shoulders and hips. The electronic percussion and live drums ticked together like clockwork, moving in circular patterns and creating an industrial sound that pushed the music along.
As Aftermath closed our eyes to take in the moment, Makino's gorgeous voice softly pulled us through the movement with grace and delicacy. The lyrics, often pouring forth phrases and cryptic metaphors similar to beloved poetry, were executed like a soft whisper a lover speaks into your ear.
It's not that her voice is groundbreaking, or that Blonde Redhead's sound is gut-wrenching. It's the way the elements speak to those inner parts of your mind and heart that only certain music and feelings reach. It's the soundscape of unforgotten moments.
Classic tracks such as "In Particular," "Dr.Strangelove" and "Spring and By Summer Fall" that transport you to the time you played those songs at times of daily escapes. These well-loved tracks sprinkled throughout the show mostly came from one of the band's most popular albums, 23 (though "Particular" is from Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons). Both these tracks and the songs from Sparkle translated well live, allowing us to experience the waves of sound in a new way.
As in the lyrics of "Spring and By Summer Fall" that state 'Clashing lies chasing changing minds/ Tell me what you've seen, tell me where you've gone/ Tell me where you've been, tell me what you saw," audience members will be able to recount the times they spun the band's recordings along with how they experienced the sound live.
Even more unusual these days in music, they will probably be able to tell you how they felt. Blonde Redhead's musical offering gave us a deep canyon of sound that we were able to dive into, able to take in all the echoes of their beautiful sounds... and we thank them for that.
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Personal Bias: Aftermath treasures shows where the audience actually pays attention to the music, and shows where musically we are taken to a different place.
The Crowd: Ceeplus Bad Knives, and members of several major Houston bands - Peekaboo Theory, Prairie Cadets, The Tontons and Tyagaraja, along with die-hard fans and those hearing the band for the first time because they were told not to miss it.
Overheard in the Crowd: "The bass is so low and so loud I can feel it shaking my heart!"
Random Notebook Dump: Major kudos to the Warehouse Live lighting team. The colors and changes fit the eerie yet captivating mood perfectly.