Coming off a month-long tour with LCD Soundsystem, DFA’s Holy Ghost celebrated the release of their own Static on the Wire EP with their first-ever “headlining show in NYC” at Le Poisson Rouge last night. Stretch Armstrong (head of the electro/disco/dance label Plant Music) and Neon Indian DJ’ed the fete. I’ve always been wary of Neon Indian “the DJ,” because, well, who wants to hear a chillwave set at a disco dancerie? Turns out I was right to be wary.
By 11 p.m., the line to get into LPR had hit the end of the block, and slowly (very slowly) was trickling in. Indoors and a hour and a half later, things were still slow. The venue was full and mostly at a standstill packed against the stage, sitting on the floor, commandeering the couches, or leaning against the bar to the tunes of, yes, DJ Neon Indian. Pockets of people danced together — we’ll just have to assume they were simply trying to stay awake. It may have been the heat, it may have been the two-hour wait for the headliner — all we know is that even Munk’s “Disco Clown” sounded like a lullaby tonight.
Holy Ghost took the stage, at last. The band’s Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser usually perform as a DJ duo, but tonight they were a band, accompanied by six others and a stage setup that could rival LCD Soundsystem’s: two drum kits, two keyboards, four mics, a pair of horns, bass, and a tambourine and cowbell, of course. Unlike their DFA label-mates, however, the band takes a sexier approach to Italo-disco-infused dance production. Live, the funky bass lines and catchy snare, with the occasional horn blast and sometimes-creepy echoing synth, feel like a hot, sticky summer night. It’s the kind of stuff you’d find on the soundtrack to an ’80s flick about love in a club or an evening in the big city. Nick’s vocals are barely audible throughout, though we can’t be sure if that’s intentional or not. “I saw him take a shot of honey backstage,” assures a guy nearby. “We’re supposed to hear him.”
Three songs in and it’s clear these guys are still finding their way around a stage. Nick plays conductor often, motioning to cue in the tambourine and purposefully looking in Frankel’s direction to signal change, all the while earnestly and inaudibly whispering the words to “It’s Not Over.” He seems to be channeling his mentor James Murphy, darting about stage, alternately singing with physical fervor, pounding on the cowbells as if to break them (often nearly losing a drum stick), and bounding back to his keyboard. It’s endearing to see him try so hard, to the point where you fear he may just pass out from exhaustion, but we wished he’d focus on vocals. On the record, his voice on title track “Static on the Wire” is smoothed out by the synths. Live, not so much.
The band may need some more rehearsal time, but it didn’t matter to most. As a live act, the group is undeniably lovable, if only because it takes exactly one song to know what they’re all about: easy, no-thought-required nu-disco at its worst and catchy, embarrassingly addictive dance-pop at its best. Nothing on the new EP has stuck to us as hard as “Hold On” did (and still has) a few years back, though the potential is there. During their last release, the group had Murphy coaching in the studio — maybe he needs to start going to band practice too?