July 4, 2011
This rundown comes from Weekly theater-writer extraordinaire and part time Korean cuisine expert and diehard shoegazer fan, Walter Ryce. Ryce said he was blown away by Blonde Redhead's Big Sur performance and library director Magnus Toren's swing dancing. Check out Ryce's expertly crafted account of the event (plus a few photos) below:
Hey, kids. Do you like Stereolab? How about Joy Division, Sonic Youth, The Prunes, Spacemen 3, The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Broadcast, or The Only Ones? If you replied yes to any of these sonically similar bands, all spun from the turntables of Jonathan Schneiderman at the Henry Miller Library Sunday night, you might have liked the live bands that Schneiderman's arsenal of music was there to augment—opener The Luyas and headliner Blonde Redhead. A sell-out crowd of 300 fresh faces, from as far away as San Francisco, Sunnyvale, L.A. and even Monterey converged on the breezy, secluded Big Sur outdoor venue, compelled by the promise of the lush, dirgy, arty, dream-pop soundscape of the New York City band—I'm talking Blonde Redhead here. Although The Luyas are from Montreal, the quartet's disjointed and whimsical art songs were received politely, bordering on the supportive.
DJ Schneiderman (don't hear that every day, eh?) spun platters of shoegazing, wall-of-guitar, distorto pop-rock gems to rev up the creatively attired crowd, who were sprawled out on carpet-like liners on the lawn, sitting in folding chairs that sank into the grass, and milling about on the deck barely suppressing their joy. And the waning day was plenty warm and infused with puffs of aromatic weed smoke when The Luyas began playing. The precious, off-kilter vocals of lead singer Jessie Stein mined a Bjork/Julee Cruise/Joanna Newsom/Regine Chassagne kind of girl fairy register and the unexpected instrumentation and distortion hi-jinx sounded sonically bold, though few hummable melodies emerged from it ("a little too avant-garde for me," said one man). Although it was valiant go at experimental rock music (their closing rave-down song was, literally, "Worth Mentioning"), and Stein was gracious and kind (they are Canadian, after all) and their set proved a promising introduction, we were there to see Blonde Redhead, bien sur.
And the now-trio of twin freres Simone (drums) and Amedeo (guitar) Pace and lead singer/guitarist Kazu Makino brought the business. That business being a discography of a dozen LPs and EPs that have graced record labels Smells Like Records, Touch and Go, and the legendary 4AD, from the mid-'90s on through to last year's Penny Sparkle (their Henry Miller date was the last of the West coast leg of a North American tour in support of that album; they do Europe next).
They opened their set with the languorous, intoxicating "Black Guitar" to a sheen of blue light and fog spilling off the lip of the stage and spilling through the nearby sitting audience. (Yeah, it was one of those shows where people sit or recline to take it in and no one is miffed.) That lulled and sated the crowd. But on the third song, "Dr. Strangeluv," the beat jumped a few notches in tempo and got heads nodding, while the guitars layered on sheets of tasty electric chord upon chord that swelled the sound and raced the blood. It sounded like they had a piano sustain pedal pressed down for good. And the crowd answered the beautiful noise with beautiful cheers. Makino moved with a confident, subtle slinkiness while strumming her guitar and singing in an dreamy lilt. On rocking numbers she carelessly tossed her hair about. When Amedeo took the lead vocals on a couple of songs, Makino turned away from the audience while playing—a respectful nod to her bandmate, though her ethereal presence haunts the stage, despite her coyly hiding behind a curtain of shoulder-length hair. And her slightly accented voice is siren-alluring.
She sang the arch and achingly pretty "Spain" like a torch song to a freshly lost lover. "Happy birthday!" shouted various factions. "I love you!" shouted one admirer. The last song of their voraciously and reverently received set, "23," got various pockets of people up and dancing, recalling Siouxie and the Banshees goth dance numbers. Then they left the stage. But the crowd was having none of that, cheering for an encore until they got it. "I heard so much about this place," Makino said in slightly inflected accent. "Our bus broke down on the way here and we almost didn't make it." They launched into four or five more songs. On the very last one, Makino asked if the crowd wanted to go out dancing or…she never presented the other option because everyone erupted at the choice to dance it out. What would that other option have been? Languishing in ennui? But dance they did. And if not dancing, then swaying. And if not swaying, as least standing just to see the spectacle put on by their beloved Blonde Redhead.