Live Review: The Avalanches @ Fonda Theater, April 19, 2017
More of a joyous celebration of their two groovy, dizzying sample-collage albums, than a straight forward live recreation of them, Melbourne’s Avalanches performed to a sold-out Fonda Theater, their long awaited LA debut, between their weekend appearances at the Coachella Festival (Friday 6:35pm, Mojave tent).
Officially, the band are the duo of Robbie Chatter and Tony Di Blasi, present here at either end of the stage tonight, the former on guitar, and occasional MPC mashing and second drum kit; the latter triggering the backing tracks, working synths and sporadic bursts of Theremin. They expand to a 5-piece live band adding touring vocalists: Baltimore rapper Spank Rock, an overqualified ringer in this role (though clearly loving the gig) and Eliza Wolfgramm, an Australian vocalist, not well known in the States, with has real spark and is more or less the star of the show, sometimes playfully wielding an Avalanches branded baseball bat as a prop. Both are in constant motion, singing (and singing over) those beloved sampled hooks, providing the stage charisma. Paris Jeffree, a veteran session hard hitter fuels things on the drum kit; and Jonti, an AUS producer/songwriter on Stones Throw, lends a hand on an occasionally inaudible guitar (the overall mix in the room seemed a bit off from my spot – vocals, guitars and samples too low, bass and drums too loud).
As might be expected, they don’t attempt to reproduce the dense, layered tracks perfectly (how could they, really). It’s a blend of backing tracks augmented with live instruments on top, key vocal samples either left out or lowered in the mix to be sung along with. And it works for the most part; understandably some of the deeper textures must be sacrificed for a live setting. They successfully added punch and energy to the versions on record, getting a long-waiting, typically diverse LA crowd bouncing and singing along.
The too brief set list, highlighting the singles from their two albums, including “Frankie Sinatra” with Spank Rock handling the Danny Brown parts; “Subways,” featuring Eliza singing the titular Chandra sample hook; “Frontier Psychiatrist,” with its goofy sample, “You’re a nut, you’re crazy in the coconut,” handled by the crowd largely. “Radio” was particularly punchy. A cover of Spank Rock’s own “Bump” was dropped mid-set, with a guest spot by his partner Amanda Blank to do her verse on it. Unexpected covers of Nas’ “Life’s a bitch” and The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” were tossed in; personally, I would have traded either or both for more Avalanches originals. There was a strange guest appearance by Jennifer Herrema of Royal Trux near the end that didn’t seem to go over; it was as if she was singing a different song than the band was playing (she features on “Stepkids” on the 2nd LP).
The main set ended abruptly on an odd note, just about 45 minutes in, the band vacating the stage without much of a word. Apparently that’s their style on this tour. After a quick breather, they return for the encore which the whole night (and much of the last decade) was leading up to, the inevitable last number, “Since I Left You,” classic title track from their 2000 debut. They rode the Duprees “do-do do-do-doo” opening loop a few extra bars, amping up the crowd, before Eliza dropped the titular vocal hook. Her voice was a little thin, as she admitted, coming off a show the night before in San Francisco, but the audience carried the tune home and sent the band off with an ovation, demanding more. Hopefully we’ll have them back soon.
The Avalanches | theavalanches.com