Two Bands Astonish: One Subtle, One Chaotic

Posted by Pete DeMola on 3. Sep 2009

"We're a little tired and our legs hurt from climbing the Great Wall," said Dan Boeckner, one half of the smashing electro duo Handsome Furs to a crowd of 50 Wednesday night at D-22.

"Our asses hurt, too," chimed the other half, keyboardist Alexei Perry. "We became true men according to Chairman Mao. And this next song is about fucking."

And with that they launched into "Evangeline," three minutes of sexy, pulsating beats, automated handclaps and the squalls of one unrestrained guitar.

The Canadian twosome, currently on a five nation Asian tour, met in 2005 at a Vancouver gig of Boeckner's indie rock band Wolf Parade. They formed this project initially as a vehicle to tour Scandinavia; it has since blossomed into two critically-acclaimed concept albums of weird and joyful music.

And a marriage.

Wednesday night's gig was just a teaser: the two blazed through two more winsome nuggets of intensity characterized by Boeckner's creaky vocals and wild guitar leavened by Perry's bubbling synthesizer.

Three paint-peeling songs in thirteen minutes. The crowd loved it and wanted more.

Boeckner and Perry would fit right in here in our rock and roll capital with that volatile guitar, writhing in distortion and feedback but anchored by a sexy, pulsating beat and that "anything's possible" potentially-damaging physical element that many bands in this country lack when performing live.

But more and more of them have been granted exposure to (and hopefully have influenced by) frenetic, breathtaking performances by an increasing number of foreign artists passing through the country, including gigs by These Are Powers, Fucked Up and Pitchtuner earlier this year.

On the other hand, artists needn't be bouncing off the walls to astonish: take tonight's main act, the Offset: Spectacles, as a case in point:

Heavily-cinematic, the trio conjure emotions through seismic waves of sound, doing so without breaking a sweat.

Sets tend to go from more driving and ominous at the beginning to more fluid and dynamic as they progress.

More instruments are gradually added to their thick stew (a vintage Ace Tone electric organ, foot tambourines, one violin) while standard pieces of equipment take on novel uses, like the spooky reverb effects bubbling from Spectator V's tube amp as he prodded it with one dusty black boot as his guitar shrieked overhead.

Fierce, ominous, murky and droning, the three Hong Kong transplants don't create mere songs: they are deep seas of highly-textured sound -- surreal soundscapes that could very well come from some subterranean force shining unseen.

The trio, rounded out by Spectators K (guitar, vocals) and O (bass), unearth these melodies and grooves, dusts them off, assembles them and proceeds to lock the audience into obedience.

The centerpiece of tonight's fifty-minute performance was listening as Spectator V's melancholy and haunting violin struggled to penetrate the squalls of dissonance gurgling like an upset stomach, growing increasingly-laborious and frenzied for six minutes, until the strings almost snapped.

They are one of the most exciting bands performing anywhere.

But back to Handsome Furs: thirteen minutes wasn't enough.

The crowd managed to extract a fourth speedball of energy before the duo reluctantly exited stage right -- the optimistic "Radio Kaliningrad" -- and then it was all over: the Hellacopters "Action De Grâce" was phased in on the iPod and everything went back to normal.

Handsome Furs will perform at MAO Live House on Fri, Sept 4, in Shanghai on Saturday and Hong Kong on Sunday. Click here and here for more information.

The Offset: Spectacles will perform in Shanghai on Thurs, Oct 1, at D-22 on Tues, Oct 6 and at MAO Live House on Sat, Oct 17.

Photo: Handsome Furs perform on Wed, Sept 2 at D-22. Courtesy of Ling Hui.

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