Blonde Redhead are doing a handful of Bay Area dates this week while in the midst of a world tour to support their latest release, Penny Sparkle, and what better way to celebrate this country’s independence than a sold-out show last night at The Independent?!
I have seen Blonde Redhead a number of times over the years in venues ranging from small and dingy to grandiose and majestic. I love watching them perform; the energy between vocalist and bassist Kazu Makino and Amedeo Pace is always intriguing (are they together…are they not together…how can they dance like that and still play their guitars so well?) and I have always found the jazz-style precision of drummer Simone Pace to be enviable and almost alien at times.
I love these guys. They have provided me with an amazing soundtrack of genuineness and sincerity since the mid-nineties. I have witnessed their transformation from disorderly to harmonious in almost the same ways that I was converting from misguided youth to semi-guided adult.
I must admit, though, I’m not a huge fan of Penny Sparkle. I will play it and I will appreciate it but I do not find it to be anywhere near as good as In an Expression of the Inexpressible, Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, or Misery Is a Butterfly. I feel this began with the release of 23 in 2007. There was life to some of the songs but the album was not consistent as a whole. Why do terrible things have to happen to good bands? Whyyyyyyyyyyy???
We may never know. Perhaps their collective tastes are changing and they are leaning toward a much more electronic dreamscape as opposed to a rousing symphony of sound. It is not up to us what “our” artists produce or how they go about producing it—but it is hard to watch your little babies slip away.
So, as I stood last night in the sold-out room, stuffy and thick with smoke, I felt a certain amount of sadness as I watched the band move from song to song as though on auto-pilot. The crowds’ response varied wildly, ranging from gentle swaying to gleeful dancing, based upon what album the songs were coming from. Obviously, the older numbers got the best reaction, and this is because they contained energy and fluidity. Whereas the songs from Penny Sparkle and even some from 23 seemed thick with backing tracks, somber and forgettable.
Don’t get me wrong, The show was enjoyable. Makino’s voice was whisper-perfect as always and the twins’ playing was impeccable as always, but there just seemed to be a spark that had dimmed significantly to a glimmer and I feel the same to be true of their latest material.
I will always have a place in my heart for these guys. I will always buy their albums and I will go to their shows. I feel they are a truly influential and important piece of avant-rock history, and that is enough for me.