Geographer at The Firebird 1.22.13

Last year I found that some of my favorite shows (Active Child and the second time I saw Poliça would be my best examples) were the ones in small venues, emitted big vibes, rad lights, and loud bass. Every show has it’s own personality, but lately I’ve found I can connect well to a show that has those qualities and are most memorable even if I don’t know the band’s music all that well. A band that can create an aura, ambience, and atmosphere unique to their show, is the show I want to go to. 

I guess you could say I’m seeking out that high of a groovy show, so San Francisco’s Geographer seemed like maybe they’d be able to deliver this with their bleepy bloop pop music and occasional big bass and Michael Deni’s smooth voice. Geographer really is a great band, they’ve got some catchy songs that are fun, but not songs I see myself wanting to listen to for the rest of my life. I was hoping the band would surpass my expectations with their live show- maybe that it would be big, bassy, and exciting, but it was comparable to how much I enjoy their recorded music- very fun, danceable at times, but not a show I’ll need to see again in the near future. 

For people who truly love Geographer’s sound, the show I’m sure was incredible- he did everything right. Michael Deni amped the crowd, came off the stage at one point to stand amidst fans and encouraged them to come close to him as he sang, and put on a passionate show, and thanked us profusely for being such a fun audience. 

I hope I’m not becoming too much of a cynic with fun live shows, I’ve made it sound like I didn’t like the show- I did. I danced. I sang along. It just didn’t quite fulfill that hope I had for a big, full sounding show that shook my heart and put me in a music (and not drug or alcohol) induced-trance. I think Geographer is onto a good thing though- I’m anxious to see where they take their music in the future. 

Be sure to check out both opening bands; Illinois/California band The Sun and The Sea, and Chicago’s On An On.

Active Child at The Firebird, 5.17.12

Thursday night I had the pleasure of seeing Active Child with Balam Acab and Superhumanoids supporting. 

Superhumanoids, a foursome from LA, kicked off the night with some pretty rad keyboard and synthesizer playing, as well as the lovely voices of Sarah Chernoff and Cameron Parkins. Since they had two lead vocalists, they each were able to focus on their instruments while the bassist/keyboardist and drummer laid the beats down in the back. The band tried to get the audience to dance and loosen up a bit a couple songs into the set by telling us we were going to play a dancing game, but despite this, the crowd still stood mostly still. Their music is very danceable in the right setting, but it’s just a tad slower than the average dance music. I think that combined with the fact that they were an opening band is why people didn’t get super into them. Even though they didn’t pull the crowd in immediately, they still put on a fantastic show that was quite pleasing to the ears. Download "Too Young For Love" on Soundcloud (and a couple other songs)- it was my favorite from the night, it employs some really sweet drone synthesizer sounds- and is especially great live.

Next up was Balam Acab. Let’s first start off with his attire, which was a pretty good indicator of his overall persona. He was wearing the classic Teva Sandals, glasses, some sort of 90’s graphic tee with Dinosaurs on it, jeans, and an old ball cap. He looked like he should be hanging out in a comic book store or maybe just taken straight back to the 90’s. He never spoke while on stage, except for a couple muffled words in the middle of his set when he thanked us for coming. Balam Acab, AKA Alec Koone, takes samples and sound bytes and remixes them into well blended songs. When reviewing his See Birds EP, Pitchfork pointed out that he plays his music around 65 beats per minute, while the average BPM for a fast techno song can be anywhere from 120-180 BPM. The slowness of Balam Acab’s music became ever so apparent when watching him work live. About ten minutes into the his set, I began to realize how repetitive and soothing his music was- in a very unconventional way. Since he doesn’t play actual instruments, he was just hunched over his table full of knobs and buttons the entire time, in a completely dark room while onlookers tried to figure out what the heck he was doing. Even though he didn’t really even do that much, the sounds he created entranced the audience. His set was rather long, and after a while, I was ready for Active Child take the stage. In what seems to be a very Balam Acab style move, he pressed his last couple buttons without a word, and walked off stage. 

Pat Grossi of Active Child is somewhat unassuming- he’s a good looking guy and dresses fairly conservatively in comparison to some musicians, but the music he creates is anything but conventional. On record, Active Child’s music is pretty low key and most certainly, as I figured out, a watered down version of his live performance (not to say his recorded music is bad, it’s just is a whole new sound and experience when performed live).

Thursday night he was accompanied by two bandmates, a drummer who not only had the traditional drum set but also an electric drum set, and a bassist/keyboardist. Grossi rotated between playing a small harp and his own keyboard. The moment Active Child played their first note, I was completely mesmerized. For a smaller show, they had the absolute best lights and effects I’ve ever seen. The smoke machine was in full use- the pulse of the drum somehow queued the smoke and lazers and drew everyone into the transcendental atmosphere of the show. Grossi’s voice sometimes sounds unnatural as he uses his falsetto about 90% of the time, but it works, adding balance to the beats and synths in the background. 

I spoke with Grossi after the show, and maybe it sounded bad, but I went into the show knowing it would be good, but I didn’t have any incredible expectations. I told him that the show far exceeded whatever expectations I did have going into it in the best way. Probably one of my favorite shows of 2012 so far.