Filed under: Features | Tags: Black Moth Super Rainbow, blank dogs, dan friel, electronic, Electronica, gimmicks, river to river, shitgaze, South Street Seaport
So far this summer, River to River’s free independent music shows have yet to disappoint. From Anthony Gonzalez of M83 to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s great set, River to River has consistently showcased great artists with great results, and yesterday was no different. Though Blank Dogs failed to impress, opening DJ Dan Friel and Black Moth Super Rainbow wowed both the crowd and 20 Watts.
The action began at 6:25 when a guy in shorts with curly, strawberry-blond hair walked out on stage, sat down on a folding chair, and got to work. The first song started with layered atmospherics and quickly went into progressively faster bass beats, accompanied by poppy synth melodies and echoing feedback and reverb effects. His other songs were all just as interesting, and watching him make such eclectic, dance-worthy music from a lap-size set-up was very impressive.
Dan Friel’s short set was enough to convince crowd members to get into it as well. One of them pulled out a tambourine and kept rhythm against the photography lane’s barrier fence. When the player couldn’t keep time with the music, Friel jokingly commented, “You’re messing me up with the tambourine, man. Trade off when you get tired.” The tambourine was traded for the last song, and it played alongside a keyboard melody fit for space rock, with Friel leaving the stage to a huge round of applause.
Blank Dogs came on next, but from the beginning of their set, they made it clear that they were not as exciting. Their surly frontman made a point of vetoing the tambourine before even beginning their repetitive, formula-driven pop music. With quick tempos, effects running through almost every instrument on stage and a bad vocalist, Blank Dogs’ sound could only be described as loud and boring.
The crowd hardly involved, only a few of the band members displayed notable talent. The lead singer, wailing inane lyrics (“Setting your house on fire,” repeated so many times I lost count) through an echoing microphone, was not one of them. Wikipedia lists their genre as “shitgaze,” where the ethic seems to be “[to play] live in such an abrasive manner as to distort recordings and push amplifiers to their sonic limits.” In this case, the name’s appropriate, anyway.
Regardless of the quality of the first two acts, neither could top the set that Black Moth Super Rainbow played. More than music, BMSR put on performance art. It all started with a weird, hidden voice emanating from the speakers. The tongue-in-cheek spoken-word intro criticized BMSR’s work as stupid and absurd (“It sounds like they’re making music for printers!”), calling their fans “douchebags” and “half-retarded, or something.” Another voice assured the fans that they were not douchebags (“Not even d-bags”), and the band walked out on stage and began to play.
Something needs to be said for bands that rely on gimmicks, whether it’s Thee Oh Sees (whose lead singer makes a habit of eating microphones and slobbering at the mouth) or Deerhunter (Bradford Cox, infamous for playing in a sundress). Black Moth Super Rainbow, however, practically made one big, awesome joke out of their live show. Their frontman Tom Fec, a.k.a. Tobacco, sat behind instruments and amplifiers so as not to be seen while singing through a vocoder. The stage lights were shut off throughout, with psychedelic art videos — featuring children and people in hats — playing behind the band. At the same time, the focus was on a man out in front wearing a full-face mask and grey animal suit reminiscent of characters in Where the Wild Things Are.
Black Moth Super Rainbow played an excellent set of mixed electronic and organic pop songs. Their drummer, who wore a ninja mask throughout, kept steady, consistently interesting beats while The Seven Fields of Aphelion (no joke, that’s her name) was always hard at work on the Mellotron. With the rest of the band members (with names like Father Hummingbird and Iffernaut) plugging away on bass guitar and a Rhodes piano, the sonic output emphasized melodic synth riffs and anthemic experimentalism. It’s almost a shame that the focus was constantly on the dude in the animal suit.
Throughout their set, the de facto emcee of the show (Animal Suit Guy, his name a mystery) literally fed the crowd and essentially lip-synced the vocoder-warped lyrics. He made a point of carrying around the microphone everywhere he went, including over the heads of people in the VIP section, as he pulled random bits of food out of an Axis and Allies board game box. Tossing plums, strawberries and bits of pita at the crowd as he danced, hopped on one leg, posed for the cameras and caroused with audience, I can’t help but wonder what he was doing there, as he didn’t supply any musical assistance to the performance.
Either way, the crowd loved Animal Suit Guy, and if he drew attention away from the band, we’re pretty sure that was the point. In fact, after the performance ended, he removed the mask and gave a false history of the band, stating that he had mixed all the music himself in his attic and hired the band recently on Craigslist (they’ve been around in their current form since 2003). The enigma behind the band only enhances the audience experience, and despite the fact that it’s essentially one huge, viral gimmick, it’s all spectacularly entertaining.
With the degree of audience interaction and involvement, as well as the amount of great music to be heard, River to River hosted another great Friday night at South Street Seaport, and the summer-long “festival” is sure to host more. Again, the best things in life come free.
— Photos by Caitlin Dewey
— Story by Eric Vilas-Boas