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February 11, 2008
Saturday night - write it down, February 9th, 2008 - will go down in history as my first true rock concert. Don't misunderstand me -- I've seen rock musicians play rock music on stage in rock clubs before; I've witnessed post-punk veterans cement their legacies in homecoming coronations; I have felt the reverberations of amplified guitars and later heard them ringing in my ears -- but up until Saturday night I had not seen the stuff that classic music videos are made of. Prior to the weekend I hadn't seen a guitarist actually leap off of an amplifier, or a front man contort himself like a human cobra while shaking the sweat from his head and onto a giddy throng of fans pressing hard in his direction. Although the bands on the bill in New York came highly touted by independent and mainstream media outlets alike, it would have been ludicrous to anticipate such documentary-worthy theatrics for a newcomer to their live shows - who knew such things still happened? - but nevertheless there was a real, honest-to-God rock show in Brooklyn on Saturday.

Outside of the towering walls of an actual kasbah, there may be few environments more improbable for being so rocked than the Warsaw, a 100+ year-old cultural meeting place only recently turned occasional concert venue. The Polish National Home's performance space holds many shades of the hall used in The Deer Hunter's marriage sequence - with its Slavic ceiling design, pierogi table and buckets full of iced imported beer - but when the doors opened on the establishment posted along the line where Greenpoint and Williamsburg bleed into each other it became, if only for a couple of hours, the hippest place to be this side of a vintage clothing stand. By the time the Los Angeles-based art punks No Age took their fashionably late opening set to the stage the crowd had swelled to sold-out capacity and the duo, perched on the crest of momentum garnered by their appropriately-titled FatCat debut, Weirdo Rippers, delivered an aggressive, charismatic set. Perhaps yet reveling in the freshness of their newfound underground-slash-Internet popularity, Dean Spunt and Randy Randall performed with the urgency of a band still fascinated by the intrinsic possibilities of making art/music, a trait they hold in common with their more seasoned and well-known tourmates.

No Age. (photos by Beth Gratzer)

No Age.

There has always been something strangely magnetic about the simplicity of a group that creates within the scaffolding built by only the guitar and/or bass with drums - novelty has been at least a marginal factor in the success of duos from the White Stripes to Local H - and No Age are no exception. Since arrangements are forced by simple logistics into a necessarily more straightforward structure, they must be that much more dynamic in order to be listenable. With their rudimentary set-up, No Age did not disappoint: Spunt performed with what could aptly be described as an animal-like ferocity behind the drum kit, and Randall donated one of the night's best moments when he tossed his guitar into the crowd and then twiddled knobs while the audience mauled its six strings.

Liars' chairbound frontman Angus Andrew holds forth.

For anyone who has ever wished to have their lungs bruised (if not slightly crushed) by a set of drums and who wasn't within shouting distance of Driggs Avenue over the weekend, the future of rock music may still look bleak. But those in attendance at the Warsaw on Saturday have ample reason to rejoice at what lies ahead. With the skate/art sounds of No Age having set the bar, the Angelino expatriates cum New Yorker favorite sons cum Berlin art wizards known simply as Liars stepped up and plugged in for a delivery that is unlikely to be bested anytime soon. Liars' innovative approach to percussion and song structure is well documented, and it was apparent immediately upon their taking the stage that they are true masters of their craft. Primary musicians Julian Gross and Aaron Hemphill breathed life into the group's live set with the drumming that became the group's trademark and wild card upon the release of 2006's landmark Drum's Not Dead. The off-kilter yet highly affable beats were an aspect of Liars' sound that I knew going in would be impressive, but there exists an element of their repertoire that had eluded me before bearing witness to it: namely that Liars are some funky motherfuckers. The unique rhythmic chemistry between Gross and Hemphill is simply incredible and perhaps unparalleled, their cadences (highly un-popular, in respect to the musical term) prompting couples in the audience to grind and leading single men and women to convulsing wildly with eyes closed and 1000-Watt grins on their faces.

Liars.

The real game breaker, however, was the stage presence of Liars' Australian-born frontman, Angus Andrew. The web having been abuzz with rumors of Andrew being victimized by a painful set of lower back spasms just days before the start of the band's current tour, many, including myself, were skeptical that the Brooklyn show would even take place. But the group headed on the road regardless, health and safety be damned, with Andrew confined to a wooden chair for about half of the set as a sort of necessary stop-gap tour remedy. Any concerns that the witch-hunt aficionado's performance would suffer as a result were erased, however, as his slow, convulsive movements mesmerized the crowd and his hypnotic stage demeanor, interspersed with uncontrollable shudders that would erupt with the powerful swells of the rhythm section behind him, proved no less fascinating.

The progression of Liars' recorded material - from the dance-punk of their 2002 debut They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, to the supernatural-infused They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (2004) and the experimental percussion of Drum's Not Dead, to the (relatively) more indie-pop tracks of last summer's eponymous album - have superbly documented the fact that the band are in a class all their own. But unlike the plethora of bands delivering exquisite songs from the sanctuary of a studio only to flounder in the flesh, Liars have further solidified their stature by translating their abilities to a live setting. What's more is that the trio are able to secure that rare feat of producing a sound that is essentially self-invented, distorting the boundaries of what a pop song can become with fierce ingenuity and a complete lack of respect for musical trends and popular sentiment. For all those who thought that they were a generation too late to harbor some fear of music, take heed: Liars are your Talking Heads.

Liars.

Liars.

SEE ALSO: www.liarsliarsliars.com
SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/nonoage
SEE ALSO: www.mute.com
SEE ALSO: fat-cat.co.uk
SEE ALSO: www.polishnationalhome.com

--
Dave Toropov
Introduced to music in the womb with a pair of headphones on his mother's stomach, Dave Toropov has yet to recover the experience. A writer based in Boston and New York, he has also written for Prefix Magazine and What Was It Anyway, and is the maintainer of the "Middleclass Haunt" blog.

See other articles by Dave Toropov.

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