After more than a decade of music, Liars may be the Madonna of independent music (in a good way). Album to album, there’s no telling what direction they’ll go or what micro-genre they’ll invent / re-invent. And, the same could be said about their live show; they fluidly transition between songs that are not necessarily intended to flow together in a cohesive whole but stand alone as movements unto themselves.
Their latest record, WIXIW, is a gem that at various moments evokes thoughts of artists like Blonde Redhead, Caribou, Radiohead, Beak>, My Bloody Valentine, Outside-era David Bowie, Bauhaus, Underworld, Velvet Underground, (and possibly notes of tar, old plastic covered metal hangers and hospital psych-ward disinfectant). If that description sounds like a complex mélange befitting of the type a wine snob might reserve for a 1982 Bordeaux, it’s because it is. Liars doesn’t make simple, easy pop records, and this one requires multiple listens before its complexity rewards listeners. It’s only after reaching a base level of familiarity that nuance jumps out from its numerous dark alleys and around its shady corners.
One wonders how much the group’s time in Berlin influenced the sound of the poly-instrumentalist trio, but there’s no doubt that there they draw significant inspiration from European music. It’s no wonder that Portishead selected them to play at last year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties (second ATP reference in a week) and too bad they didn’t play the American iteration.
The trio played a relatively early set at Washington, D.C.’s U Street Music Hall last week, a bit of a “matinee” as lead singer Angus Andrew put it. It was a raucous live show, progressively so once the crowd and the band overcame a somewhat sluggish start that is easily attributable to the start time. Their dischordant dance punk vibe is very different from that of, say, LCD Soundsystem, with industrial sounds and tribal beats alternating with the sounds reminiscent of a child singing themselves to sleep after being sent to their bed without dinner.
Back to the show; after the initial settling-in period the mood picked up and a more dynamic atmosphere filled the (fittingly, underground) room. The band had begun the set in a fairly stationary fashion, each member content to play their multiple instruments and let the music stand on its own. This soon gave way to violent movements that alternated with moments of grace as the band became further entwined in the web they were spinning. This extended to the audience, who soon shifted from head bobbing in place to pogo-ing in place to full on crowd-surfing and out-and-out mayhem. It was quite a transition to watch.
They played a lot of new material, to the delight of the crowd, and ultimately left too soon. Or at exactly the right time, depending upon your theories of set list construction. A brief encore ensued, where Andrew’s ominous vocals and Jeff Martin-like visage left haunting impressions upon an enthusiastic crowd that understood they were there to get in touch with the sort of deep-seated emotions that normally remain buried deep within, and without acknowledgment or discussion.