Going into the show, I had very little knowledge of the opening band VBA so I went to the number one place for fact checking on earth, Google. A three piece garage rock band from NYC was pretty much all of the information I was able to glean, as well a some songs on SoundCloud that weren’t bad. At the show though, something wasn’t right and I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was that was causing the problem. The sound balance was definitely off with the bass overwhelming everything else onstage, making it difficult to hear the guitar and almost impossible to hear the vocals. The sound issues left me a bit disconnected and more interested in figuring out what famous person the drummer/singer reminded me of… I said a beardier Keanu Reeves while the photographer I was working with thought he looked more like a Pirates of the Caribbean era Orlando Bloom.
The last time I tried to see Blonde Redhead live was in 2007 at a music festival in California (that will remain unnamed and it didn’t go very well). There was some kind of issue with the sound system that ate up about half of their designated set time (a minute waiting for a band at a festival seems like twenty and twenty minutes feels like an eternity). This time around and with their ninth studio album under their belts it seemed like they weren’t leaving anything to chance. They brought their own engineer, who along with a sound booth worth of equipment that was crammed into the back left corner of the stage, and he took great care in between sets to make sure that every piece of gear was plugged in and working properly.
After this extended soundcheck, the set started with guitarist Amedeo Pace picking out an airy, reverbed guitar line that slowly built combining with dark slinky drums of his brother Simone and droning synth played by Kazu Makino. The band played a lot of music from their new album Barragán (which considering it’s release a few months ago isn’t a huge surprise). Opting to go with a more minimal sound this time around, the instrumentation is dark and brilliantly arranged, giving a feeling of vast distance without losing its rhythmic pace. All this translated beautifully into the live show, the band’s engineer blending everything together expertly, acting like a fourth member of the band and demonstrating why having a sound guy who has an intimate knowledge of what your music is supposed to sound like is worth the extra costs.
Making full use of the many different instruments scattered around the stage to add and take away sonic textures, Pace and Makino switched effortlessly depending on the needs of the song, never losing the momentum that they had begun building with those first few guitar notes. The crowd response was positive, everyone at the sold out show appreciating the music in their own way, much like it seemed the band itself did.
After some thought I would say that even with the few small issues that there were at the show, it was a rousing success. Both Blonde Redheads live show and new album are worth checking out if you haven’t yet and worth taking another look at if you have.
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Photos by Benjamin Telford (bentelfordphoto) | Review by Tristan Johnston