Blonde Redhead @ the Grog Shop, 10/20/2004
I expected a Blonde Redhead performance to be something like the apocalypse: full of improvisation, mad drumming, and guitar distortion. I expected a tense atmosphere on the verge of implosion, until Kazu Makino literally blew out her vocal cords and was rushed to the ER, and the crowd was forced to leave the Grog Shop, covered in layers of sonic dissonance and Kazu's esophagus, under the watchful eyes of the Cleveland Heights PD.
I was wrong; what the crowd got instead was a very controlled concert. Simone's offbeat drumming kept the music disciplined. Amedeo's guitar was clean and normal. Kazu never appeared strained or uncomfortable while contributing her vocals. The band sounded polished, reflecting the maturity of their latest release, Misery Is a Butterfly, and the most effective moments were the (comparatively) minimalist echoes of "Melody" and "Messenger," as well as the absolutely haunting finale, "Magic Mountain." Another highlight was "In Particular," a song that remained fresh after the hundredth listen.
Blonde Redhead were less effective when they tried to still get rocks off. Amedeo and Kazu's robotic dance routines felt contrived. This critique is harsh; there is no question that they love playing music. Their dance, however, seemed unnatural, and at that moment, the members of Blonde Redhead, rather than embodying the music of the band, looked like actors in a performance. Such an observation can be humbling for the viewer, since it disconnects the creators of the music from their creation.
The live show has given me new perspective on Blonde Redhead, partially because I had failed to listen to their records with enough care and attention. Instead of sonic dissonance, their albums, even the early ones, now reveal careful arrangement and restraint, and I have gained even more respect for their music.
Overall, I found the live performance to be enjoyable but not completely exhilarating. Even during a rocking song like "Equus," Blonde Redhead seemed to function on cruise control. Before playing "Equus," they invited people on stage, and Amedeo awkwardly joked, "We feel kind of stupid up here by ourselves." The statement, drawing quiet laughter from Kazu and the audience, suddenly injected absurdity into the idea of going to a concert to see live music. Perhaps it also unintentionally revealed the artists' unease about parading themselves in front of a crowd. Some people shyly hesitated then jumped onto the stage, surrendering to the pinkish glare of the Grog Shop's bright lights. The ones who didn't dance while in the crowd were now forced to wiggle and squirm. They looked a bit contrived, and I smiled at the notion that we are often not ourselves but the embodiment of our own creation.