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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 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).
The highlight of the LA Phil’s ongoing Reykjavík Festival, Sigur Rós stunned in a transcendent performance in the first of a three-night run at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The Icelandic band, often branded as “post-rock” (if anything demonstrates the deficiencies of that catch-all term, it was this particular night) overwhelmed with two dynamic hour-long sets. First, backed by the orchestra–conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, co-curator the festival, in a return home as the LA Phil’s conductor laureate–and then as their current stripped-down three-piece configuration.
The night is billed as “Sigur Rós & LA Phil,” not “Sigur Rós with the LA Phil,” a hint at a long evening coming in around three and a half hours with intermissions, Sigur Rós not appearing until about 75 minutes into the program. Starting with a sort of a cappella amuse-bouche from the Schola Cantorum Reykjavík choir in a set of five short pieces quickly demonstrating a range of traditional Icelandic music. It was met with a mostly appreciative, if slightly fidgeting response from. Things picked up with the orchestra and the familiar sight of Salonen back in Los Angeles in black.
Their opener this night (they will perform different pieces each night with Sigur Rós) was “BD” by Hlynur Aðils Vilmarsson, a searching avant garde number that runs from atonal discord to melodic whimsy, building to a tribal gallop of short notes, which at times felt like something that might soundtrack an episode of Lost. Next, they tackled the three-part “Emergence,” by Daníel Bjarnson, a young Icelandic composer/conductor who’s crossed over to pop to work with the likes of Ólöf Arnalds and Efterklang, as well as Sigur Rós. A U.S. performance debut, it’s a slow tense drone largely for strings with a short chaotic middle section. The final section of overlapping descending lines was particularly gorgeous. Finally, after an intermission, the three members of Sigur Rós joined the LA Phil on stage.