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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

May 6, 2008
RATING: 6/10
In my experience, live shows generally fall into two basic categories. One being entertainment, the other being art. When attending something along the lines of a Flaming Lips [LAS feature] concert, or a GWAR [LAS feature] production, one does so as much for the entertainment value than the music. Which is not to say that the Flaming Lips do not make exceptional and engaging music, but rather to point out that their live show is an event as much or more so than it is a concert. On the other hand are the bands that simply show up and plug in, ready to perform with little to no theatrics. Those are the bands that tend to impress me the most, delivering the goods completely through the medium of energy they create between themselves and the audience.

Concert films tend to throw a curveball into the equation - if a band rocks in the forest and the trees see it later on DVD, how hard did the band really rock? Observing Pelican's live DVD release, After the Ceiling Cracked, it is not as easy to issue judgment upon the audacity of their connection to an audience, through the medium of video and sound, when removed from the actual event. This time-lapse reaction has led to a general consensus, among music aficionados at least, of skepticism about live recordings in general, and in specific whether or not they are substantial enough to warrant a dedicated release. Through the wonders of technology the live album has somewhat been replaced by the live DVD, and instead of just hearing a musician feeding from a connection with their audience, we can now see that process unfold. In turn, the hope is that fans can forge a deeper connection with a visual medium than is possible with mere audio.

After seeing Pelican perform live a few months back, the band quickly marched up the scale to rank as of one of the best live bands performing today. But upon watching After the Ceiling Cracked and comparing the film to my personal experience with the band, something about it is slightly off. Something is missing, and the shortcoming relates to nothing on Pelican's part. The footage for After the Ceiling Cracked comes from a single show - a December of 2005 event at Scala, a converted cinema in London's Kings Cross area - which seems to have been attended by the living dead. Compared to the crowds at the Pelican shows I've attended, the audience in London was relatively stale, and although the band delivered a show of epic proportions the connection between performer and viewer is substandard. Trying to take things the extra step and translate the band's unrequited energy through a video monitor is like fighting a windmill.

Lacking an audience connection, After the Ceiling Cracked plays out less like an actual live show than like a production video. Sure, the front row diehards were in full force - but in the depths of the crowd there was little engagement, most standing and staring at the stage like a group of deer in headlights. While everyone in the room may have been engaged, in their own way, with the performance, the DVD suffers from that part of the "post-rock" culture content to stare at their shoelaces, a phenomenon of reservation that has served to diminish a true connection between musicians and their audience. Unfortunately the London crowd wasn't the type of audience to physically and emotionally involve themselves in a performance, a response unfitting for a band of Pelican's caliber. Their sound is extremely powerful and dynamically diverse - and staring out into an unresponsive audience can't be very inspiring on stage.

For Pelican's part, however, it goes without saying that this was one hell of a performance. Regardless of a less than stellar crowd, the band let loose in their trademark fashion, showing why they are consistently one of the tightest bands working today. Within the "post-metal" or "instrumetal" genre, Pelican have few peers, and the DVD, which was mixed by Justin Broadrick (who has previously worked with the likes of Jesu), does nothing to detract from their reputation of prowess. After the Ceiling Cracked also comes with a 3-inch CD that has two takes on the track "Pink Mammoth" - one is a mix created by Prefuse 73 with his normal stuttering beats and odd-ball chopped-up sampling, the other is a version that features These Arms are Snakes overdubs, and is more for novelty's sake than anything.

Pelican fans with a completist audio-video collection shouldn't be steered away from picking this up. The performance is above par, and the sound quality is also top-notch. But a true visual experience of the band After the Ceiling Cracked is not; Pelican needs to have a palpable connection with their audience to truly be understood, and that communion was truly lacking in London.

SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/pelican
SEE ALSO: www.hydrahead.com

--
John Bohannon
An LAS contributing writer based in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, John Bohannon is also a regular contributor to the pages of Prefixmag.com, Daytrotter.com, and Impose Magazine.

See other articles by John Bohannon.

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