Caribou, with Fuck Buttons
Wednesday, April 30
The Record Bar
Review by GREG FRANKLIN
Photos by MICHAEL FORESTER
On record, Fuck Buttons fully realizes the sonic subtleties of its droning keys and pushing simplistic beats almost past its potential. Live, a band like this should be completely captivating, visceral, soothing and offensive. Unfortunately, the drone of their stack of shitty old Casio keyboards and modded Game Boys really took over, and the duo went from being mad professors of noise with a penchant for building grooves over layers of fuzz to being two guys standing around with a bunch of toys, holding notes for 5 minutes with no beats or really any semblance of discernable song breaks. Occasionally Ben Power would break into tribal mode on the rack tom beside the toy table, and Andrew Hung spent a good portion of a song or two on the floor spazzing out beside crusty Art Institute kids. I spent the majority of the set wondering if the kids nodding their heads wildly to the beatless and rhythmless seasick buzz of parts of the Fuck Buttons set were listening to the same band that I was.
When the fuzz and buzz faded away, a wave of excitement hit me for a show I had been eagerly anticipating since it was announced in January. My initial exposure to Caribou was when they were the opening band for the Super Furry Animals "Love Kraft" tour. Having never heard the band prior to the show, I was completely floored (a rare occasion these days) by the then-trio's fully visualized (but rough-hewn) mix of visuals and sound, and truly felt like I had just seen a band that exists within its own open but well-defined parameters, versus merely aping along with its contemporaries.
Caribou's turn on stage began with little fanfare, with the band members walking on stage and quietly taking their positions without acknowledging the audience. A few adjustments, a couple stick clicks, and then the shotgun-bang-whuzzupwiththatthang crack of Ahmed Gallab's high-tuned snare exploded in time with a bright blast of light on the video screen behind the band, and the show went into a completely different gear.
Visually, the band always has SOMETHING going on, projecting abstract psychedelic patterns and shifting colors onto themselves and the giant screen behind them. I worried after having seen them before last night that the novelty of their home-movie and sketchy cartoon backdrop would wear thin on another tour. Thankfully, they've shifted from mini-videos that synced with the songs to the aforementioned abstractions, which were an excellent fifth man for the band's live show, but not even completely necessary, given the band's airtight performance.
Musically, Caribou is even more diverse and random than its choice of visuals. Having started out as a one-man experiment in electronic minimalism (then known as Manitoba), Dan Snaith has taken Caribou in multiple directions, with a pretty solid rate of success. Drawing a setlist comprised mostly of tunes from 2007's Andorra, Caribou's current crop of influences borrows liberally from the '60s psych-pop and folk scenes, with the lilting, reverb-laden harmonies of the Zombies and Simon and Garfunkel. Lay all of this on top of some IDM-style manipulation, some of the loping groove of Can and NEU!, and occasionally add some marching band snare-offs, and you've got a decent idea of the current (but always evolving) iteration of Caribou.
Frontman Snaith is still not an entirely confident performer when singing behind a microphone, still appearing to be timid, shy, and introspective; at these times, the visuals really do help to make the performance that much more dramatic and engaging. It probably didn't help that he had a drunk concert-goer standing about a foot away from him offstage yelling "PLAY THEM DRUMS, BOY!" or "THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKIN' 'BOUT!" during any possible opportunity to yell football coach-y things. Honestly, with a band as layered and interesting as Caribou, though, it's not necessary to have Robert Plant writhing around with his shirt unbuttoned. Gallab (a replacement drummer for injured Brad Webb) really shone, beating the holy hell out of his drums while keeping every groove going smoothly. The live Caribou show is also all about dueling percussion: Gallab was up front, and Snaith had a kit of his own up front as well, his kick drum pointing straight into Gallab's. Each raising a stick in the air like Excalibur, Gallab and Snaith went into some percussive freakouts that would leave even the tightest drumline astounded.
Both bands on the bill were incredibly exhausting, but whereas Fuck Buttons set was all about testing patience, limits and attention, Caribou's set was more about a restrained but unabashed display of overwhelming art; of a blend of solid songwriting with experimental tendencies; of incredible physical musicianship; of balancing pop, rock, and groove; and of presenting the whole package as an incredible, smiling art project that has no real contemporaries.