The Books + High Places @ The Seymour Centre (18.02.11)
I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Books on Friday night. Their newest release The Way Out was brilliant, but how they were going to translate that into an entertaining live set; I just couldn’t anticipate this happening successfully.
For anyone who remembers, last Friday night was particularly ruthless; no one dared leave an air-conditioned room for sake of melting and becoming a pool of flesh on the ground. Nonetheless, there I was traipsing through Redfern in jeans (dumb), followed closely by a few walking cans of VB, on my way to the Seymour Center. Thank goodness the Seymour Center was cool on the inside because my concentration span wouldn’t have gone the distance otherwise. This was a live set I had to warm up to; it was going to be very different to anything I had seen before.
The support act was LA comers High Places; I could see why they were chosen as the support act because they stuck to a lot of the same principles that The Books liked to incorporate into their music, however, their execution wasn’t so great. The duo took to the stage with a big drum machine and two guitars. Wreathed in trippy projections, the duo proceeded to drench their whole set in reverb and loops. Their tracks were somewhat repetitive, sometimes painfully so, and their minimalistic vocals and melodies were frustratingly scarce. I am a sucker for a fabulous live entertainer, and what disappointed me furthermore about High Places is that it seemed as though both of them, simultaneously, decided to forget about the crowd and play with their effects pedals at numerous times throughout their set.
On the other hand, High Places really struck a chord with me at times. They produced some nice mellow beats on top of layered crisp vocals that in turn created an almost eerie, melancholic feel. They reminded me a lot of Deep Forest; they had that ‘indie’ feel to them whilst at the same time remaining neutral and very eclectic. I have respect for them as musicians, but I guess it wasn’t my cup of tea. I would prefer to digest music slowly in small bites, rather than swallow an entire wall of sound all at once.
The Books were highly anticipated. The stage was beamed with a blue light, and a flickering projection lit up a screen on the back wall saying ‘The Books’; it reminded me a lot of the set up for RockWiz.
Originally, The Books were a duo of two young guys making music, but at this live gig there were three of them. A new addition to the team: his name is ‘Jean’. This new dynamic was something I wasn’t expecting, so I was automatically thrown completely off balance. I became skeptical because I had absolutely no idea how this was going to change the music, or what sort of influence this new ‘Jean’ dude was going to have.
In short, Jean ‘wowed’ me. As this was the first time I’d ever seen The Books, I wasn’t too familiar with their processes, but I’m guessing that pre-Jean they used to play a lot of their recordings throughout their live set to ‘fill in the blanks’. But in this live performance, Jean was the filler. He played every instrument, and even took hold of parts of some tracks that I would have thought impossible to play live. Surely studio production is so much more advanced these days… right? Jean’s tremolo was flawless, and the speed of his pizzicato was incredible. It was apparent to me very early on in the gig that this new addition wasn’t a negative thing.
Their set list included many tracks from their newest release The Way Out like ‘Free Translator’, ‘Group Autogenics I’, ‘A Freezin’ Cold Night’ and ‘I Didn’t Know That’ just to name a few, but they remembered their roots with tracks like ‘Smells Like Content’ and ‘A Brief Moment of Meditation’.
The Books are for the most part very colourful and experimental in their music. Seeing them live is very different to listening to their album, because when you listen to their recordings your mind colours in the outline of the music with pictures. When you see them live, this outline is taken away because you are already using your eyes (and ears) to experience the music. The Books perfectly sync their music with obscure and bizarre projections, full of emptiness and food for thought, so that you have room to implant your own thoughts into the live show. It’s very clever. Each and every person in the crowd was hooked all the way through.
To see The Books live was very refreshing. They are comedians just as much as they are musicians. They know of their own existence and equality and perform as such; with a humility and sincere gratitude. The Books create a soundtrack to every aspect of life, from the most absurd circumstances, to the anatomical complexity of the human body. Their realist approach to music was reflected in the projections of golf tutorials, their personal childhood videos and talking heads. Their projections aren’t separate to their music, they are a part of the music; just as equal as the guitar or keyboard.
In short, this gig was outstanding.