I rarely end up actually liking a band more after seeing them perform live. In fact, it is mostly the case that I see a performer live and can’t bring myself to listen to them again for weeks or more. There are a few groups that actually increase my interest in them. This is especially the case with electronic musicians, as they too often fall into the trap of coming up with an addition to the performance to make it more *live* or I guess more paletteable to the concert goer. Common traps include the guitar or poor vocal/rap additions to the arrangements that were already what they should have been. It’s sort of like adding bad language dubbing to a film, and can ruin the entire experience. The bands that don’t do this tend to also fall into the category of adding visuals to the show that are for the most part a wasted effort. There are too many bad 3D swirly and “trippy” videos can pretty much be replaced by a decent lighting system in a club, and there are too many rehashes of the same old nature videos that were born from Nettwerk and WaxTrax performances and popularized by Nine Inch Nails in the 1990’s. There is rarely an electronic performance that knocks your socks off.
This past Saturday (Jan. 19, 2008), I attended the Plaid show at the Mezzanine in San Francisco. After getting in and dealing with having a Lomo camera in tow (because, despite the number of people running around with iPhones snapping pictures everywhere, you can’t bring in a camera that has no light source and doesn’t work so well in low light), we got to hang around with the pleasant crowd of geeks and electronic music minded burning man folks. It was pretty similar to the crowd that attended the last Plaid show I saw at Yuri’s Night in April 2007. After a couple of good DJ sets and a solid performance by Mr. Projectile (local SF I think?), Plaid took the stage.
As with the Yuri’s Night performance, it was what I feel like an electronic music show should be. I paid more attention this time to the visuals; I didn’t specifically investigate, but I’m guessing were in some part Max MSP driven, as they were not only synced to the music, but reacted to it. The first track (if I remember right) they played featured a green background with a rotating twitching black 3-D blob that looked as though it was composed of random shapes and text (like a Karl Hyde designed Underworld cover brought to life) which was circled by a flock of 8-bit looking seagulls, and it got better from there. The bass lines would both vibrate and blur shapes and change the rotation of the camera or the mass onscreen. Other sounds would trigger changes in the other shapes, spiking them, resizing them, moving them. I can honestly say it was the best use of live computer visuals that I have seen yet. It was only one screen, but it was pretty impressive. The music was of course good, even better than I remember from before, ranging from slighly ambient to their trademark fairy-tale sounding techno to hard hitting breakbeat to complex idm, and sporting some bass that I’ve never heard [felt] at that venue before. If they come to your town, I’d definitely recommend going to see them.