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Live Review and Photos: Blonde Redhead, July 2, 2011, El Rey – Los Angeles, CA

All Photos by Philip Cosores

Blonde Redhead’s show at the El Rey on Saturday night saw the band barely speaking to the audience, instead maintaining concentration on their music. Despite this lack of interaction the crowd absolutely adored of the band; whooping loudly after each song, with one audience member proclaiming them to be “legends” and another telling singer Kazu Makino that she’s “so damn cute.” To me, this proved that when you get a band who are extremely talented musically and a crowd who appreciate this fully, being charming or funny or even exciting isn’t a necessity. This was certainly the case for this particular show, which meant that even the weaker moments of the set didn’t spoil the night at all.

Before Blonde Redhead took to the stage, Canadian band The Luyas had the opportunity to impress this attentive audience. It’s often that you can say that a band seemed to be having a lot of fun playing their music, but with The Luyas, it seemed more like they were having fun first and playing their music second. Whether it was the play fighting between singer Jesse Stein and French hornist Pietro Amato, the band gathering around the synthesizer to play it from all sides, or just simple high-fives, they seemed to be having the time of their lives. This proved true when Stein announced that it was their “most fun LA show ever!” with childlike genuineness.

As for their performance itself, it was impeccable; Stein rocking out on her Moodswinger – which well beat the French horn as the most unusual instrument of the evening – led her band charismatically, drummer Stef Schneider was constantly halfway between a smile of happiness and a grimace of concentration, and I’m sure we’d have seen something similar from Amato if his lips weren’t regularly wrapped around his horn. And, though their personalised staging consisted of little more than a dozen or so flashing household lightbulbs strewn around the stage, it’s always nice to see a support band try to stand out. The bulbs came into particular effect for The Luyas’ final song, for which Stein requested that every light in the house be turned off, leaving complete darkness. As the number built, the lights on stage started to brighten until the crescendo. It was quite a way to leave a mark.

Blonde Redhead started their set with a slow burner, rather than a bang, with Amedeo Pace singing first in his nasal tone for “Black Guitar.” When it got to the chorus and it was time for Kazu Makino’s turn to wrap the audience in her hauntingly comforting vocal, the two approached each other in the centre of the stage where the whole floor was covered in billows of dry ice, and their lightbulbs (yeah, they had them too, but fancier ones) lit up the stage like a scene from a gothic romance. It was dramatic. Like, video-for-“Total Eclipse of the Heart” dramatic. Blonde Redhead showed that they needn’t go for a big start, their musical prowess and presence was enough.

The set consisted heavily of songs from latest album Penny Sparkle. The mechanistic layers of sound and beats of the likes of “Here Sometimes” and the gorgeously textured “Everything Is Wrong” showed just how much can be accomplished by three people onstage, particularly by drummer Simone Pace (though, admittedly, there were obvious automated parts such as the bass and backing vocals which helped to flesh out the sound).

The mid-section may have become a little too bogged down in slow jams, losing momentum and perhaps losing interest for the crowd, with “Will There Be Stars” in particular seeming like hard work. Nevertheless, Makino’s sensual and passionate movement to every single song kept the audience’s eyes on the stage patiently and respectfully taking it all in. The payoff was sweet in the moments when Makino picked up her guitar and rocked out with her bandmate on the likes of “Spring and Summer By Fall” and even rocking out without a guitar on the set-closing highlight “23.”

The encore saw three songs from the band, and three different sides of their sound. Digging into their back catalogue for the dream-poppy “Melody of Certain Three,” followed by “Silently” from 23 – easily the bounciest and happiest song of the evening, followed up by “Penny Sparkle,” which ended the night in a very downbeat – and perhaps misjudged – fashion. It seems that Blonde Redhead ought to have ended by going big and rocking out one final time, but they ended just as they started: in understated fashion. And I guess that brought a nice cyclical feel and peaceful conclusion to the evening.

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