Let’s get this out of the way right now. There will be slanted coverage in this review of The Raveonettes’ October 2012 performance at Washington, D.C.’s Black Cat. There won’t be exquisite attempts at objectivity, just some pandering in that direction. And for good reason: The Raveonettes are awesome.
Melody’s Echo Chamber opened the evening with a mélange of jangly electronic dreampop that was almost as adorable as Melody Prochet‘s delightful French accent. They meld a 60’s pop sensibility with musical moments that hint at Stereolab’s spaciness. They’re definitely worth checking out.
The Raveonettes took the stage before an enthusiastic audience somewhat sedated by a set list offering a relatively chill vibe matching that of their latest album, Observator. They were performing as a three-piece, with the addition of electronic samples triggered off-stage. They certainly create a full sound with this lineup, although it’s not as fuzzed out or raw as their typical early-career performances as a four-piece (with an additional guitarist). While it may have been relatively sedate, the key word is “relatively.” This is still a Raveonettes show, after all, and it was a warm and sunny sedation that transported the audience to California highways leading to endless beaches perpetually preserved by Kodachrome, Polaroids, and now, Instagram filters.
Beauty is not a small part of what the band does, with Sune Rose Wagner‘s pleasingly simple and intuitive hooks supplemented by Sharin Foo‘s steadily reassuring rhythm. She wears her platinum blonde Cleopatra haircut better than Uma ever did. And it’s a beautiful thing when you can take all this in while being encouraged to stare at Foo’s gorgeous Scandinavian features without fear of reprisals. In fact, if anything, it would be weird if you didn’t stare at her in this environment. It’s fittingly unattainable beauty that resides just steps away on stage, but, as with the music, may well be vacuuming listeners into a time warp. Rather than being palpable, moments with The Raveonettes seem slightly buffered from the buffeting realities of the here and now.
These are moments where you lose yourself in wander and lust, moments where it appears that her loveliness is giving you those Beach Boys-styled excitations and vibrations. But, no, that’s actually the controlled cacophony vibrating from their amps. It’s a powerful vibration, enough to send a water bottle careening off the top of Sharin’s amp. The guitar’s jangle is a celebration of retrogaze, and has proven to be a fertile creative zone for Wagner’s prolific compositions over the past decade. The neighborhood is different, sure, but The Raveonettes have only gotten better.
This concept could spur quite the essay in itself. The Raveonettes played this venue close to a decade ago, when the neighborhood was littered with used car parts dealers, drug dealers, and 24 hour laundromats that were barely functional at any hour. Grit has been replaced with yuppie watering holes, imported furniture stores, and high-end clothing boutiques. Suburbanites show up regularly. Gentrification, say some. Progress, say others. Change, inexorably. And like the band’s sound, less grittiness and fuzz is replaced by more immediately pleasurable sights and sounds. Pretty young things in cocktail dresses stand in for crack whores. Abandoned buildings are replaced with celebrity-chef approved restaurants. AIDS clinics downsize and condos shoot skyward. Perspectives differ on what all this means, but the passing familiarity of the past slowly and undeniably gives way to the present and future. Little by little, step by step, the old and familiar becomes newly unfamiliar, before rapidly becoming newly familiar.
The band’s 2012 persona retains its familiarly gauzy haziness even while largely dispensing with the Jesus and Mary Chain influenced walls of dissonant sound and feedback. The real drums — not to be confused with the electro-percussion also in the mix — sound like they’re in another room. There’s something synthetic going on, even amidst the foggy reality unfolding on stage.
It’s a respectful audience, thankfully, which is in no doubt due to the fact that the kids-going-to-shows-because-it’s-a-party are otherwise occupied, talking over Skrillex and Jack White at Virgin Free Fest. Those kids who talk incessantly during shows are about the scene first and the show second. Those in attendance tonight, on the other hand, are respectful fans with lyrics committed to memory and a longstanding attachment to the band and its music. It’s a great environment, if not as loud as it can get with the collective din of bright young things yammering vacuously about nothing.
The band doesn’t completely reject the old, even if it seems they’d rather exist in the present tense of their oeuvre rather than in the triumphs of their past. They offer up a killer rendition of “Love in a Trashcan” that perhaps jolts the guitars out of their melodic pathways and forcing re-tuning upon completion of that exorcism of the fast and the fuzzy.
No, it’s not the barn-burning assault of the past. Some things are the same, some things have changed. Sune remains obsessed with women and relationships, Sharin is mother to a four-year old. Some will long for the past, some will embrace the present. Some will embrace change and see the beauty in both. And, without a doubt, the combination of both makes for a beautiful show.