Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Guest Blog: Scott Bishop on M83 (Live at The Middle East)

This is the first in a series of guest columns for The Snilch Report. Well, maybe not a "series," more like "something that seemed like a good idea after a few beers last night." Scott Bishop is a Cambridge-based musician I've mentioned a number of times in this blog, and I'd link to those posts if I weren't so incredibly lazy. Take it away Scott!

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way first:

I’m old. Walking into the Middle East downstairs, I immediately raised the average attendee age by five years.

And the Middle East, what a tough place to see a show—and I stress the seeing part, because a good portion of the allure of a live gig is that you can, you know, actually SEE the performers—and not just a bobbing head or an occasional peek at a guitar neck, but entire bodies, amplifiers, drum kits and the lot. If they posted a sign above the door that said, “Abandon all hope of getting a clear view of the band, ye who enter,” they would not be lying.

Don’t get me wrong—some of my favorite shows have been at the Middle East. Arthur Lee and Love, on his first tour in God-knows-how-long after spending years in prison. My first Sleater-Kinney show and a couple of great Crooked Fingers gigs, all with the Snilch. Rainer Maria in 2004. And of course The Dandy Warhols with Sean and the Snilch, where we actually stuck our heads into the speakers.

Still, if there’s one place in Boston where you absolutely have to get there early and claim a spot, the Middle East is it. And where was I when I could have been marking territory? Out in Waltham, at Bison County, watching game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals with the Snilch.

Yes indeed, music fans—sports once again interfered with a music aficionado’s ability to hit the club and rock hard. Snilch had to give M83 a pass and cheer on his beloved Red Wings. In a cruel twist of fate, Detroit gave up the tying goal with about 30 seconds left in regulation, then prolonged the agony into a third overtime before succumbing. In case you hadn’t heard, kiddies, life ain’t fair.

I was committed to seeing M83, so Snilch and I parted ways after the second period, and the #70 zipped me from Waltham to Central Square just in time to grab an IPA before M83 started.

M83 were good—not quite the rocking set that Snilch, Paul and I caught during the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2005, but some of that may have been the shock from that first time of seeing a synth-driven band really bring it. You’d figure with a lot programmed keyboard and sample elements that a band would be locked into a tempo, and some of the life would get sucked out of the performance, but that really wasn’t the case. M83’s set at ACL was tight, propulsive, and hard hitting.

They had a lot of those qualities last night, but with a longer set—their ACL gig was closer to 45 minutes—they took more time to stretch out, bringing in a lot of the ambient and repetitive elements their longer songs employ. That was an aspect I enjoyed, but it led to the usual Boston response to quiet passages—chit chat.

Many Boston club goers seem to pride themselves on their music knowledge and a certain indie hipness (and yes, I’m pretty sure I would have won Indie Bingo last night—the Chuck T’s and PBR cans were as pervasive as ever). But except when Jose Gonzalez played Paradise earlier this year, I can’t recall a show I’ve attended in the last few years where people failed to talk during quiet sections. And to add a long time beef of our dear friend Sean, these people couldn’t be buggered to shake their asses when things went up-tempo, either. As an acquaintance of mine might say—because I’m all about stealing other people’s ideas today—Boston is not a giving audience.

Which is a shame. For the 50 or so minutes that I watched, I found the byplay of low key, repetitive buildups and mid-to-up-tempo songs to be pretty entrancing. They touched on key songs from Before the Dawn Heals Us and the poppier tunes from the new Saturdays=Youth. Once the sound man got the guitars in the mix—just after the second, “Graveyard Girl”—everything was nicely balanced. But as I said before, downstairs at the Middle East is a bitch for viewing, and the audience response to M83’s mellower elements represented one of the few occasions I’d have preferred to see a group in a seated venue, because it might have encouraged people to listen when things got quiet.

I ended up bailing halfway through, after M83 played my favorite song—“Don’t Save Us from the Flames”—which rocked as righteously as it had in Austin nearly three years prior. Hey, I’m old, I was feeling curmudgeonly… why not leave on a high note?

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