culture, music, and identity politics musings from a 20-something Australian-Asian living in Washington D.C.

Ladytron at 9:30 Club September 26, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — itslateagain @ 5:45 am

Monday – September 25, 2006

I arrived at the 9:30 in time to catch the last two songs from the playful, apparently Brazilian CSS. They appeared to be in their early teens, looked at their hands when they played their instruments, and sang the refrain “Let’s Make Love” with neither a clear sense of irony or homage. Fun, yes? Musical revolutionaries? Certainly not.

I’ve come to realize that being at a show by yourself has certain benefits. But it also involves certain dreadfully unavoidable chasms of boredom, like the half hour space between the last opener and the main act. With my friend unresponsive to phonecalls, I whiled away that interminable half hour crowd-watching from the bar, slid my way across to the other side of the club, then finally back into the middle of the throng, before resorting to lame, plan-ahead texting.

Does that make me fidgety and completely non-zen? Perhaps it does, but I must say that there are few less appealing places to be standing than in a crowded, smokey club waiting for a band with nobody to talk to, beer glue beneath your shoes and loud, generally unrecognizable music belting out of the soundsystem.

Ladytron wandered onstage smack on the hour of ten and launched into several songs from their latest album, “Witching Hour,” which is a real career pinnacle-level piece of work. Immediately, their well-mixed soundscapes achieved glorious levels of darkness and strength, sounding ominous, gothic and utterly enchanting. A handful of synths (that enormous sonic boom of noise has to come from somewhere!), a guitarist, bassist, and drums provided the aural thunderstorm to the vocals of Helena and Mira, Ladytron’s two most recognizable faces. I had earlier wondered how the live sound would compare to the stereo version, and found the live surround sound attack to be far more preferable.

Helena, a charmer with a perfect British set of bangs and occasional authoritative hands on hips, sings Ladytron’s more tuneful numbers, such as set highlights “Seventeen” and “International Dateline.” The latter, with its extended middle section and high, wordless strains twisting their way into the song’s irresistible two-step groove, was the evening’s definitive performance. Helena occasionally broke into tasteful, but always flavorsome dance that is heavy both on shoulder and sass. In comparison, Mira, who joined the band on travel in Bulgaria, has about as much stage presence as a Malaysian bat: by which I mean very little. Additionally, she can’t (or at least does not) sing. Rather, she mumbles and slur-narrates in a variety of European tongues, often accompanied by Helena on backing vocals. It makes for an interesting and visually compelling dynamic between the two girls, who were both, quite naturally, dressed in all-black dresses and looked equal measures stern, plaintive and ravishing.

The band moved swiftly through their set, warming the crowd up only to a medium state of jubilation at the most frenetic of times. For an electronica band, Ladytron’s sound is much more contemplative and emotive than most. Even the band themselves tend to rock out in short, limited bursts, rather than break out into fully extended dancing. A small group of young revelers in the audience broke loose, but the majority of people kept their dancing spatially contained, maximizing limb movement symbolism against emotional sentiment through varying combinations of shoulder bobs, foot stomps and head nods.

I spent most of the show with my eyes closed. It became a beautiful, cold release, stepping into this wintery, Eastern bloc-aping world of dark urban mazes, droning, pumping synths and razor sharp rhythm boxes. Ladytron make mood music first, dance music second, and I got a satisfying fill of both. When the six-strong group finished off with the blistering pop jewel “Destroy Everything You Touch,” I could not wait until I was out and on the street, pumping the song back into my bloodline through the white wires of my iPod.

We are the generation of abstracted, bottled emotions after all.


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