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Blonde Redhead - Conway Hall, London, 17/9/2004

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 24 / 9 / 2004

Blonde Redhead - Conway Hall, London, 17/9/2004


Blonde Redhead's latest album, ''Misery Is A Butterfly'', has just been released on the 4AD label. At the Conway Hall in London watches the long-serving NYC act reject their noisy and abrasive past for something more dreamlike and melodic

They emerged from the New York City noise underground sometime in the mid 90’s, taking their name from a song by DNA, one of the bands who formed part of the ‘no-wave’ scene which took place in downtown NYC during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Initially meeting in an Italian restaurant, brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace hooked up with Japanese art students Kazu Makino and Maki Takahashi; their initial sound, with it’s dissonance and atonal alternative tunings, led to the inevitable comparisons with Sonic Youth - whose drummer Steve Shelley released their albums on his Smells Like Records - but over six albums (during which time Takahashi left) Blonde Redhead have redefined their sound to take in a more ornate, contemplated sound which has culminated in their latest album, 'Misery Is A Butterfly', being released on 4AD. It’s a fitting move, the label being renowned for the likes of the Throwing Muses, the Pixies and the Cocteau Twins, whose artistic sensibility can be seen as similar to Blonde Redhead's later work. 'Misery...' showcases the most expansive, subtle sound the band have achieved yet, honed with the addition of piano and keyboards. But first we have some brilliant support in the guise of The Double, who produce some stunning art-rock to open the night. Their atmospheric, gothic sound is equal parts Interpol, the Flaming Lips and Stereolab, with some driving organ and echoing guitar. Driven by tom toms and some brilliant experimentation, it builds to a shimmering, awesome crescendo of a finale. It’s a perfect band to play at this extraordinary hall, with it’s pristine brown walls and upstairs pewters' bringing to mind the Islington Union Chapel. It’s a beautiful, atmospheric hall that seems just the right size. After The Double, Home Video seem a slight disappointment. As people trickle in and out of the main hall, or take a look in the library upstairs that seems to be selling all kind of literature, Home Video play a kind of warped electronic rock that never quite gets going. They’re interesting nonetheless, with some spectral guitar sounds rapping itself round spidery, metronomic beats; a future on Warp records, for whom they’ve just signed, could be a sign of great things to come. Cass McCoombs’s set is more successful, with his powerful presence and discordant, surrealist lyrics offset against some gripping rock music. There’s some obvious references here – his lyrical flow brings to mind Tom Waits and Nick Cave, while the music has echoes of the Jesus and Mary Chain and Lou Reed with it’s droning groove, scathing guitar and Mo Tucker-style drums. The Baltimore, Maryland resident conjures up some real demons with his dark, personal lyrics, aided by an impressive backing band (including Part Chimp’s drummer). At one point he refers to the huge Biblical motto hanging above his head in the arc above Conway Hall’s stage, on which reads something along the lines of “To Thine Own Do What Thou Will”; it’s a fitting reference to his work, suffused with a kind of devotional, intense feel, a kind of deep South gothic. He carries off his intricate songs with the most charismatic presence of the night. And so to Blonde Redhead themselves, who finally turn up onstage just before 11 pm (a time when many bands at other venues will just be finishing their set). They start with Amedeo Pace coaxing some beautiful treated guitar sounds from his guitar, running it through a pedal which makes the notes run backwards; the effect is like listening to amplified running water, and serves as a warning to the crowd if nothing else that this isn’t the same band who a couple of years ago would provide a set of dissonant noise and feedback, all wrapped around some frenetic drumming, as on songs like ‘Water.’ Instead, we have the stateliness of ‘A Cure’, from 2000’s 'Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons'. Most of the set eschews noisy, abrasive guitar sounds altogether for something more dreamlike and melodic, and while it reaches some highs you wish they’d rock out a bit more. Sometimes the music is simply too languid to fully make it’s desired effect. Still, Kazu Makino’s voice is incredible, reaching an operatic intensity. As she intones “I want to show you / Just how much I love you”, you can see the interplay between her and Pace, as they bounce off each other, the tension between the former couple onstage never less than fascinating. The encore – perhaps inevitably –is ‘In Particular’, also from 'Melody...' as the clock strikes nearly midnight. As people file out, some are moaning about the band having to truncate their set because of the late running order; maybe so, but it still proved to be spellbinding stuff. A little more noise and energy wouldn’t have gone amiss, though.

Picture Gallery:-
Blonde Redhead - Conway Hall, London, 17/9/2004

Blonde Redhead - Conway Hall, London, 17/9/2004

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