January 13, 2004

Live Report: Broadcast and Manitoba, The Parish, Austin, Texas, November 11, 2003

Unless I suddenly remember a better show I’ve attended while combing through my archive of show reports for this year’s Top Ten list, this show holds the title as the best I’ve seen all year. Both acts on the bill put on amazing performances to promote amazing records in an amazing club with an amazing sound system. Did I already tell you that the show was amazing? Anyway, the Parish is in all but the name the same club as the Mercury, which was supposed to close its doors this past May, but got a renewed lease on life (emphasis on “renewed lease”) right in the nick of time. Thank God, because while I love Emo’s, its sound system simply wasn’t good enough to support Broadcast when they performed in Austin a couple of years ago. Plus, the grungy bathrooms and tattooed bouncers of Emo’s don’t create an atmosphere sophisticated enough to put this music in its proper context. In a better world, Manitoba and Broadcast records would come with their own strobe lights and martinis, and the Parish has both.

Manitoba walked on stage to a prerecorded backdrop of deafening bagpipes. It was the kind of roar meant to warn an audience that it was about to get their butts royally kicked by the music. The band definitely lived up to such a bombastic introduction. Followers of this site already know that I love their latest album Up in Flames, as it does psychedelic big-beat much better than the Chemical Brothers ever did. The record doesn’t sound like it could be pulled off convincingly live, and Lord knows I don’t need to see another IDM set consisting of a shy guy staring into his laptop. Fortunately, Manitoba delivered the goods by augmenting their backing tracks with live instruments and stunning Day-Glo visuals. Flowers, aliens, teddy bears, you name it --- anything cute and surreal, the band put it on the screen.

The trio of musicians rotated between guitar, keyboard, melodica, pennywhistle, and drums. Two of them frequently played drums simultaneously, which simply took the music through the roof. There’s something inexplicably primal and cleansing about the sound of two drummers playing together. The Boredoms understand it, the Microphones understand it, and Manitoba does too. The drumming turned a song as light on record as “Jacknuggeted” into driving indie-rock live, and a song as twee as “Crayon” into a powerful punk blast. For a band that wears animal masks on stage to maintain anonymity, they’re awfully charismatic. You can tell that main man Dan Snaith enjoys playing live just by hearing him sing along loudly to his own songs even when he’s nowhere near a microphone. Eventually, they took off their masks and urged the audience to “make some f**king noise!” Manitoba definitely earned our compliance.

At this point, there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it: Broadcast’s Ha Ha Sound is the album of the year. No other pop band on the planet manages to make music this experimental and hypnotic while still retaining a strong emotional and melodic core. The band would have had to absolutely suck live not to live up to the expectations I held for them after listening to their latest album. Needless to say, they didn’t disappoint.In the last couple of years since I last saw them play, Broadcast have grown more confident as musicians, performers, and arrangers.

For their Emo’s show, singer Trish Keenan wore a simple sweater and slacks and stood stock still. At the Parish, she was a gorgeous chanteuse straight out of an Austin Powers flick, dancing and gesturing to the audience while playing keyboards and singing in a clear and pitch-perfect croon. Their new, comparatively aggressive drummer sprinkled tom-tom and cymbal splashes all over the place. The guitarist played only the barest sketches of melody when he wasn’t slicing and sliding chromium gashes all over his instrument. The bassist and keyboardist did most of the melodic work, ensuring that the music never got too abstract for its own good. The near-darkness the band played in added even more tension to the performance. Even their interminable one-note vamps were charged with all manner of harsh and squiggly noises. I have to give props to a band that played well enough to distract me from a woman as beautiful as Trish. If you fuse Stereolab’s motorik fetish with the noise of early Jesus and Mary Chain, and add large portions of ‘60s obscurity the United States of America, you still wouldn’t have a cocktail as potent as Broadcast. They have a sound you can get intoxicated off of, and I definitely had trouble driving home after the show.

---Sean Padilla

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