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Chairlift @ Troubadour 9/16/09
I feel like I can't help but use a phrase from the lyrics to Brooklyn-based Chairlift's most well-known song to describe how I feel in putting together a write-up of their show this Wednesday night at the Troubadour: "I tried to do handstands for you."
What I mean to say is that I've been trying to figure out a way to be the band's cheerleader, because I was beyond blown away by their show a few months back as part of The Getty's amazing Saturdays Off the 405 free concert program, and I totally dig their album Does You Inspire You, but the bottom line is that their LA gig this past week was disappointing.
The Troubadour was a little like a ghost town around 10:15 p.m. when the band was prepping to take the stage, following openers John Maus and Glasser. You'd think a band who'd formed with the goal of writing music for haunted houses would feel right at home in such environs, but actually the whole thing was just plain awkward. In her only address to the audience of the evening, vocalist and synthesizer-player Caroline Polachek made reference to her off-sounding instrument, and besides a quick name drop of the other bands on the bill for the night, didn't attempt to connect anymore. Compounded by the too-dark lighting that had the band shrouded in reds, blues, and straight up darkness for most of the meager 8-song set, it seemed the show never really got started.
An imbalance in sound was evident as the vocal levels couldn't match the too-forceful bass-levels in most songs, making the lyrics muddy and hard to catch hold of--a shame because Polachek's voice is one of the most compelling in modern rock, and makes a wonderful foil against the deeper, velvet murmurings of guitarist and vocalist Aaron Pfenning's voice. Some die-hard enthusiasts who'd clearly committed every line to memory with the vigilance only an under-21 can sometimes muster had an easy time following along and losing themselves in the show, but they stuck out like sore thumbs among the sedate and unmoved head-bobbers who couldn't be won over.
Did Chairlift phone this one in? It's possible. At times it seemed like Polachek, dressed in a curious combo of bike shorts, bra, and see-through rain slicker, was switching gears between the intrinsic call of making fun music and giving herself over to the sound and the less-admirable act of doing us all a favor. Perhaps it's his usual stance, but the keyboardist in the rear was mostly hunched over his instrument like a kid asleep in Econ class or crouched on the floor like a game of hide-and-seek was going down, rather than a show at a rock club.
The set list taped to the floor beside their mic stands told us we were in for a set of 8: "Garbage," "Dixie Gypsy," "Flying Saucer," "Evident Utensil," "Territory," "Planet Health," "Earwig Town," and "Bruises," to be followed by the requisite mini-break and encore of two songs, "Somewhere Around Here," and "Make Your Mind Up." Only, well, that didn't happen. Perhaps realizing they were never going to get it any better than the pop-catchy strains of "Bruises," (c'mon, buy an iPod Nano, everyone!), after a spastic vanity instrument shift to let Polachek tap the drum set for a spell and have a mystery girl appear to take a few ooohs on the mic to end the song, the band unceremoniously departed the stage and never returned.
So, uh, hey, thank you and goodnight, Chairlift. I guess you didn't want to give Los Angeles your best show this time around. I wanted to do handstands for you, I swear, but it just isn't going to happen. I'll stick to listening to you on my iPod.
Chairlift is finishing their North American tour, and is about to join Phoenix (also, incidentally, playing live in LA that same night) for European dates. They've also got a Twitter now.
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