Blonde Redhead @ Glass House, 4/26/07
It is easy to take Blonde Redhead for granted. 14 years–what is that in indie band years? 37? –and seven records into their career, this band has never disappointed. One might have preferences and favorites of course, but just about every record they release, every show they perform is delivered with an integrity rare for today and, more times than not, genuine artistic genius.
The songs are built using familiar parts–guitars, keys, drums–but they don’t sound remotely like anyone else making music today. Unusual spidery riffs, washes of noise, warm electronics, major/minor shifts, distinctive male and female singing. On the new record, 23 , they sound like the ultimate 4AD artist, as if the 25+ years of the 4AD lineage have been leading up to them. Cocteaus, Lush, Pixies, Musesâ€¦ Blonde Redhead–a logical evolution. (Sidebar: I hate the label “art rock” that gets bandied about with 4AD bands because it’s redundant; all rock worth a damn has some element of “art” to it. )
They don’t self conscientiously reach for the epic but they can raise the dynamics with the best of them when Kazu and Simone are on guitars and Amedeo, one of the most inventive, tastefully powerful drummers playing today, is driving them on the kit. Their gentler melodies will find their way floating through your head unexpectedly during the day, maybe at times of frustration, or maybe at moments of joy. At this point, any mentions of a Sonic Youth influence only serves to show how little that particular critic has listened to their records.
Whether Simone or Kazu sings, the emotion–Yearning? Lamenting? Hoping? Yes, yes, yes and more–in the voices sear through with their mere tonality, regardless of words. You catch snatches of lyrics here and there, but knowing the words is almost extraneous. In fact, their closing number, a miasmic throbbing drone piece, starts to lose words as it crescendos, Kazu’s singing reduces to just soft emotive screams that are pitched somewhere between giddiness, pain and orgasm.
Tonight the Glass House is sold out with an all ages crowd, a crowd with a heartening number of bright young faces. (These kids are going to be alright.) The new songs get surprisingly strong cheers of recognition. One guesses many of these kids heard the record on MySpace or–gasp!–even downloaded it, but many might have even bought the record. Maybe even at Best Buy, as I did. Who’d have thought you’d see Blonde Redhead at Best Buy, no less featured in their ad. I was tickled to see the powder blue 23 CD with its happy quadruped tennis player shrink-wrapped and stacked on an end-cap at Best Buy for $7.99, right next to the latest emo garbage. Conscientious consumers might quibble about throwing their dollars at the big box retailer, but wider access and good prices are a good thing.
At one point, Kazu actually touched on this area of commerical ambition, when she recalled to the crowd that they had played the Glass House a few times before, but never to this many. She continued, “In some ways we’d like to play some place bigger, but, in some ways, we’d like to just play here forever.” It was a touching thing to say because it conveys a familiar tension between large-scale artistic and commercial ambition and small-scale intimacy with an audience. One thing’s certain–the integrity of their music is unwavering. New fans and Best Buy will welcome them as they are or not have them at all.