The Thrillcall family was hoofin’ it between a bunch of Noise Pop shows in San Francisco last night – stopping in on Die Antwoord and Cursive along the way – but we all seemed to converge on the Grimes show as our final destination. I had been holding down the Rickshaw Stop the whole night, so I was also treated to opening sets by Born Gold and oOoOO on a bill that ended up showcasing that breadth of music that can originate from a common instrument: the drum machine.
Born Gold: Everything lights up and everything synchronizes! That’s the Born Gold philosophy. Frontman Cecil Frena was decked out in a custom bodysuit lined with LED lights that doubled as MIDI pads, so he was essentially playing his own body like a light and music show. His bandmates bracketed the stage on either side, backlit by two square light towers which cast a good 80% of the show in silhouettes.
Clearly the presentation is of foremost importance here: As Born Gold nimbly moved from sonic lull to massive drop and back again – with Frena lashing the arrangements with a buggy whip to keep things moving (no single song was invited to stay long enough to make itself comfortable) – the lights flashed in synchronized patterns to accentuate the four-on-the-floor kick, which was mostly omnipresent throughout the show.
oOoOO: I’ve been following the mini-craze around oOoOO with some skepticism: I dig a lot of his music but I never understood how he got saddled with a “genre creator” label, as he owes plenty of his style to Southern hip hop and the LA beat scene (two of my favorite things, mind you). Nobody will fault you if you roll him into experimentally tinged hip-hop crowd – but in fact oOoOO’s languid, chopped and screwed beats resonate best when you take them at that lurching, disoriented face value.
His best moments (and they were many last night, though a little inconsistent) come from riding the tension of a booming 808 kick as it forms the brittle skeleton of beat which would fall apart if it lapsed half a second slower. oOoOO would inevitably go for the sonic deconstruction of these moments, fulfilling his M.O. of casting and then breaking an ominous spell on the crowd.
A telling anecdote: I heard a guy behind me try to drop a Flying Lotus comparison early in his set, and I turned around and was like “yo, don’t sell Flying Lotus short like that.” He replied: “yeah, this is dope but somehow it’s lacking that unnhh” (making his best unh face to demonstrate). I told him that basically nailed it for me, and I was going to put it in my review if he didn’t mind. And he didn’t mind, so here we are.
Grimes capped off the evening in style, playing most every song from her ambitious two-album output in 2011 (Geidi Primes and Halfaxa) that endeared me to her from the start. She’s fantastic because she fixes what was always my problem with that dreamy wall of sound aesthetic: there’s never any bass to balance out that crowded high end, and the songs seem lazy and directionless as a result.
Grimes resolves that problem with authority, riding deep drum patterns that provide a rooted frame of reference for her otherworldly voice. I was a little bummed, though, that those patterns came looped straight out the drum machine – it left the performance feeling a little undermanned at times, even with the backing band she invited out early in her set. But that criticism only speaks to grandiosity of her arrangements, how deserving they are of extravagant treatment – a compliment I’ll pay in advance to what I’m hoping to see out of her live set in the future.