Tanlines with Micachu and The Shapes: Live at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City on March 30, 2010

Music is transformative.  This statement is simultaneously over-obvious and under-specific, but bear with me as I expound upon one of the things I love most about this art form.  Both the way in which we experience music and the way it is made can provide stability, comfort and familiarity.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, music is also mutable enough to offer endless discovery, surprise and evolution.

Tuesday’s concert had great examples of both these characteristics.  The Brooklyn-based Tanlines played an opening set for U.K.’s Micachu and The Shapes at Le Poisson Rouge, an art gallery/music venue in Greenwich Village.

Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm are the duo behind Tanline’s lush, multi-layered tropical sound—a blend that draws equally on calypso/reggae and retro ‘80’s dance groves.  While the bulk of their work is original material, they also dabble in the collage art of remix and have re-interpreted artists from Telepathe to Au Revoir Simone.  Their EP Settings was released in early March through True Panther, and this New York show marked their last in the U.S. before they launch a European tour through the month of May.

Stage presence is not an overly great concern for these two; when they appeared onstage to address some equipment issues, I mistook them for sound technicians.  It soon became clear that, though dressed as fifth grade substitute history teachers, what these gents lack in rockstar style they make up for in substance.  Emm’s voice shifts and cascades over the top of synth and drum loops, achieving a surprisingly convincing reggae tenor.  The set got off to a slow start, but as they warmed up their sun-soaked beats and steel-drum-tinged guitar riffs had a reticent crowd nodding, shuffling…  almost dancing along.  By the time Tanlines closed a regrettably short set with their catchy single “Real Life,” the audience had all but forgotten their rainy day.

If Tanlines were able to broadcast a catchy and often unique sound, they failed to fully captivate the audience.  One of my concert-going peers raised the objection that they weren’t really making music, they were simply recycling pre-captured material while adding the occasional live embellishment.  This was a comment that both raised legitimate questions about what audiences now accept as “live performance” and appropriately set the stage for Micachu and The Shapes, who are about as live as they come.

Micachu is the stage name of Mica Levi, a young British singer, songwriter, composer and general music innovator.  Her impressive resume includes extensive training in classical performance and composition, which transitioned into work as a DJ and MC in the London club scene and ultimately led to the formation of The Shapes.  Along with bandmates Raisa Kahn and Marc Pell, Micachu creates what she herself references as “experimental pop,” using the combined forces of altered instruments, found objects, ambient sounds and distortion.  Their debut full-length album, Jewellery, was released with Rough Trade in April 2009.

Micachu and her bandmates, like Tanlines, are deceptively simple in appearance—they all resemble the kid you went to camp with.  Dressed in over-baggy white tees covered with intentionally sloppy and bold shapes, the traditional idea of “rockstar” was once again challenged.  The costumes are apropos, however, as their music contains the same re-defining force when labeled “pop”.  It is a complex, wild sound so unpredictable and uncontained that the traditional conventions of pop music have quite clearly been dismantled, reinvented, and pieced back together into an entirely new structure.

Where Tanlines fell short in sweeping the audience up and away, Micachu and The Shapes stepped in to finish the job.  As they let one piece morph into the next, their stage presence outshone the simple outfits, and almost overshadowed the music itself—these musicians were having fun together and the audience felt it.  The set became a roller coaster ride of unexpected orchestration:  a quiet, melodic and intimate moment of Micachu alone with her strange little modified guitar would suddenly roar into a crescendo of drums, synth, distortion and even beer bottle percussion.  Each piece was an exercise in listening, both for the audience and the musicians, and it’s easy to imagine that Tuesday’s performance of their hit single “Golden Phone” will sound entirely different on Thursday.  Throughout this sonic intensity, all three performers maintained a strong and easy connection, grinning at each other as if the whole act was one giant practical joke.  Even if it was, their audience loved every minute of the ride.

Unfortunately, this tour only keeps them in the U.S. through April 10th, playing several major venues as the opening act for Spoon.  Hopefully you can catch them this time around and if not, we’ll work together to bring them back across the pond very soon.

Micachu & The Shapes (with Spoon)
April 2 – First Ave. – Minneapolis, MN
April 3 – First Ave. – Minneapolis, MN
April 5 – Ogden Theatre – Denver, CO
April 6 – Ogden Theatre – Denver, CO
April 7 – In the Venue – Salt Lake City, UT
April 9 – Moore Theatre – Seattle, WA
April 10 – Moore Theatre – Seattle, WA
Link to this article: http://www.breakthruradio.com/index.php?b=review.php?id=205

– Britt Sondreal


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