Caribou - Webster Hall - 11/14/14
All photos Lindsey Rhoades
Better Than: Disclosure covering Darkside
Fourteen years ago, Ontario crate-digger Dan Snaith embarked on a musical endeavor that would come to be known as Caribou, largely a bedroom recording project long before that phrase warranted eye-rolling over the notion that anyone with Avid could become a producer overnight. Snaith, no doubt, has inspired many a Johnny-come-lately with Pro Tools, but he has always been of a finer breed, interpreting hip-hop beats and samples, soul, psychedelia, and Kraut-rock through his unique lens. Each of his records is a brilliant meditation on a particular range of ideas and styles, taken apart, examined, and reassembled as a painstakingly realized masterpiece brimming with thoughtfully constructed songs.
With a focus more finely honed than ever, Caribou's sixth LP, Our Love, is poised to top many a year-end best-of list. The record's dance-club vibes are the logical extension of Snaith's recent DJ stints and his last two releases, 2010's Swim and 2012's Jiaolong, recorded as Daphni. As dependent on electronic production as these efforts have been, Snaith is a seasoned live performer, never content to twist mysterious knobs in a pantomime of re-creating pre-tracked sounds. Instead, he enlists talented musicians to populate a full band, exploding the subtleties of his recorded compositions to their fullest expression. At Webster Hall on Friday, Caribou's second of two sold-out NYC shows, Snaith's early intensity gave way to beaming joy, his victory made apparent by the rapturous reaction from the crowd.
Opening with Our Love's title track, the band's tight formation in the middle of the huge stage gave the impression of a protective circle nurturing something vulnerable at its core. It was indicative, perhaps, of the fact that this material is Snaith's most personal to date, but little was held back in terms of stage production, with colorful, piercing lights sweeping dramatically in all directions. Letting the drama build through slow burners "Silver" and "Mars" before launching into a wily rendition of Swim standout "Leave House," it became apparent that Snaith was bent on taking already grandiose ideas and making them somehow more anthemic.
The result was a complete delight shared between band and audience, reframing the meditative ideas on different kinds of love that appear on the record as a specific type -- one between fans of the music and the musicians who make it come to life. Snaith is a veteran of the road, having toured extensively behind all of his records, but it's been four years since his last Caribou release, and it was clear that he was celebrating his return to the stage. Our Love is, at its root, a testament to passion -- the emotions that affect our hearts, the musical rhythms that affect our bodies, and, as in Snaith's case, the rapture of doing what you love in front of hundreds of people every night.
Though there are plenty of tunes from early in Caribou's catalog that would have fit snugly into the set, it was composed solely of songs from Our Love and Swim, designed to keep pulses pounding. Opening act Jessy Lanza reappeared to deliver show-stopping vocals on "Second Chance," her contribution to the record marking the first time Snaith has used a female voice on a track that wasn't sampled. John Schmersal also sang a couple of songs, including "Jamelia"; Snaith chimed in when he wasn't busy re-creating complicated synth patches, providing polyrhythmic foils to Brad Weber's drumming onslaught, or tooting a plastic flute during "Odessa."
At each turn, the band showed deft precision. No matter how big the tracks felt at certain moments, Snaith and friends were always quick to reel it back in, the cacophony strictly orchestrated but still feeling fluid and fresh. Finishing with a rousing, expansive rendition of "Your Love Will Set You Free" that built to crowd favorite "Can't Do Without You," Caribou returned for a one-song encore of "Sun," which the crowd was literally begging to hear. All smiles and gratitude, Snaith took a moment after the show to stoop over the barricade and shake fans' outstretched hands. Hard to believe that a decade and a half ago, he was just a record nerd from Canada.
Critical Bias: I've been going to Caribou shows since 2007; at one of them I stood next to Jeff Goldblum, no lie.
Random Notebook Dump: Miss the projections Caribou used to use as a backdrop, but the larger-than-life album artwork was a nice bit of self-branding.
Overheard: A couple arguing about whether or not they'd lose their spots in the packed crowd if they went to the bathroom.
Setlist: Our Love Silver Mars Leave House All I Ever Need Bowls Second Chance (featuring Jessy Lanza) Jamelia Back Home Odessa Your Love Will Set You Free Can't Do Without You
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