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Controlled Chaos

By Josh Potter

Black Moth Super Rainbow

Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Mass., Aug. 27


For all the talk of how “psychedelic” Black Moth Super Rainbow are, the most surreal moment in Thursday’s show might have been on the drive to Northampton, when a clip of the band’s song “Born on a Day the Sun Didn’t Rise” served as a segue for the National Public Radio show Marketplace. The band received a big bump this year when they enlisted Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann to work on their album Eating Us, but this hasn’t much changed the way the band carries themselves. Indeed, success, vintage synthesizers, and oddball stage names aside, the other continually surreal thing to observe about this band is that, ostensibly, they’re a bunch of totally normal kids.

In a venue packed to the gills with the arch-hip (one guy even came dressed as Doug from the Nickelodeon cartoon), Tobacco, Father Hummingbird, and the rest of the band came off, shall we say, a little square. But, in performing a set of music that featured no between-song banter and continual video projections, which effectively kept audience attention off of the band, they framed an audio-visual spectacle that didn’t require Wayne Coyne-style theatrics.

One sphere removed from their concise songcraft and propulsive rhythm section (another Lips comparison is due here, I’m afraid), it’s the band’s command of this contextual frame that makes their music (and their show) so compelling. It becomes hard (and irrelevant) to separate out the impact of the audio and the visuals, and this acute synesthesia generally makes up for the fact that the band rarely break the rigidity of their song structures. The whole thing runs a terrible risk of feeling wooden and postured, but the only truly self-conscious moment came during the video introduction, when a disgruntled kid on a Web cam wrote the band off as playing “music for printers.” The rest of the show was a non-stop kitsch parade of refracted ’80s camp, re-mythologized cultural minutia, and transcendent tack.

Oscillating synthesizers swelled and peaked as clips from a public-access yoga show illustrated kundalini rising in neon beams through a Tom Selleck-looking model. Tobacco’s trademark vocoder barked robotic lyrics about dissolution as paranoiac eyes flickered open again and again. And drummer d.kyler absolutely dominated her drum kit during a tune that sounded like a reworking of the Sesame Street bit about the number 12.

This might be splitting semantic hairs, but a better way to describe the band (and, more particularly, their auteur Tobacco) than “psychedelic” is “hypnagogic.” Writer David Keenan started a big to-do last month when he coined the term “hypnagogic pop” to describe bands like the Skaters and Pocahaunted in The Wire. BMSR weren’t directly included, but their approach to collagist art deserves the term, in that it moves beyond the merely ironic appropriation of cultural detritus (that pervades music these days) and appeals to that liminal, child-like state of mind between sleep and wakefulness that synthesizes these fragments into an archetypal amalgamation that is earnest, and, at its very strongest, even spiritual. Hence the casual demeanor and omission of any “freaking out.” Hence, the humble, “now-there’s-this” delivery. Bands like BMSR have emerged from the dissonance of cultural relativity and post-punk cynicism to construct something fresh and consonant from the wreckage. This is why they’re so exciting, relevant, and, to borrow a term from another era, “trippy.”

Heavy Metal Breakdown

Photo: Joe Putrock

What doesn’t kill them seems to only make them stronger. The hard-rock juggernaut known as Crüe Fest 2 hit Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Tuesday to once again prove to the world that metal never dies—and neither does Mötley Crüe. The Los Angeles band are nearing an improbable 30 years on the road, and their self-named tour has been a major success in an otherwise grim concert market. The band’s legend is only growing—a film version of their hit 2001 autobiography The Dirt will hit theaters next year. Viva Motley!




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