Better Than: About 90% of whatever’s usually going on at Roseland Ballroom. Like, what was the last show you’ve been to there? I’ve been to two in four years.
In 2013, most people making dance music in the mainstream don’t really look like Hot Chip. Avicii’s blonde Swedishness. Tiesto’s muscular Eurotrash. It’s easy to forget there are all these indie bands out there that are heavily indebted to and make liberal use of multiple traditions from the dance music canon, and that these artists might look like Hot Chip, half of whom appear anemic and half of whom are kinda frumpy. Frontman Alexis Taylor came onstage in all-white suit, doing that whole shirt buttoned all the way up without a tie thing, which immediately evokes memories of David Byrne-type neurotics. Multi-instrumentalist Al Doyle emerged with some tunic shirt dress number going on. With EDM’s current sleek and sexy Top 20 moment, these dudes look like a throwback to the strange looking electronic music purveyors of the past, from Kraftwerk to Gary Cullen, er, Numan.
All of this is to say: despite their quirky appearance, do not underestimate Hot Chip. Their live show is an unstoppable, endlessly gratifying 80 to 90 minute party. On paper, a Hot Chip set looks short, a meager 13 to 16 songs. But in practice, each of these are opened up into percussive, beat heavy epics, the band members regularly throwing in a bonus cathartic synth build-up here and there. Consequently, the propulsion of these live versions bears more house influence than would be immediately glimpsed on record, and the band fittingly runs the set almost like they were DJing. For three or four songs in a row, nobody will say anything and there might not even be a break between songs. Basslines and beats often faded out into something new, which in turn opened the door for the next song, functioning not unlike a DJ’s transition.
The production value for the show was approached with a no-nonsense attitude. For opener “How Do You Do?” orange lights frenetically lit then re-lit the bobbing band members, making them appear born from a stop-motion video from which someone had removed several frames. In a way, you didn’t want them to stop and talk–it all came out a dry British mumble lost in the crowd noise anyway, and band and audience alike seemed to get off on the immensely crowd-pleasing nature of the set.
Initially, it seemed the show would peak early with a rendition of “Flutes,” a track from last year’s In Our Heads, made much more massive by thunderous live drums and denser synths. But then that lead right into fan favorite “Over And Over,” and that in turn yielded a a version of “Shake A Fist” far more focused than its studio counterpart, now outfitted with distorted guitar lines and squiggly Middle Eastern-tinged synth solos.
The indisputable zenith, though, was the encore. After a gorgeous run through the Made In The Dark track “We’re Looking For A Lot of Love”–the only real mellow moment of the entire show, actually–the band reached back for “No Fit State.” Charging through that song’s emotive second half, with multi-instrumentalist Joe Goddard’s litany of “I’m in no fit state/I’m in no fit shape” and Taylor finishing his sentences with things like “To fall in love with you/ To make a record of my life,” it would’ve made a stunning closer. But after then doing “I Feel Better,” the band decided to play one more, even as half of them were waving goodnight, and closed with the part-plea, part-paean of “Let Me Be Him.” It was a perfect closer, but we don’t need Hot Chip to be that other “him.” We like them in their “no fit state,” in their quirkiness, because of the way they get away with both the synthetic and the emotional, the cheesy ’80’s synths and chic polyrhythmic dance beats. Because of the way they can bring you to your knees and then back to your feet. Over and over.
Critical Bias: I spent many listless hours walking around Dublin and Paris last year obsessively listening to In Our Heads, so there was a lot of emotional closure in finally seeing “Flutes” and “Let Me Be Him” live.
Overheard: Honestly, Crystal Ark’s DJ set before Tanlines and then again before Hot Chip meant things were loud enough to make your whole body vibrate for pretty much the whole night, and I didn’t hear most people say much of anything, but one girl behind me proclaimed “It feels great to be so sweaty again!”
Random Notebook Dump: From far away, Alexis Taylor kinda resembles a way nerdier version of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, which I have to stop thinking about or it might just derail this whole experience for me.
How Do You Do?
Don’t Deny Your Heart
One Life Stand
Night And Day
Over And Over
Shake A Fist
And I Was A Boy From School
Ready For The Floor
We’re Looking For A Lot Of Love
No Fit State
I Feel Better
Let Me Be Him