March 27, 2006

SXSW Report #21: His Name Is Alive @ Habana Calle 6

After Xiu Xiu's set on Thursday evening, I went to Habana Calle 6 to see His Name Is Alive’s showcase. They’re not a proper band as much as they are a loose collective of musicians headed by writer/producer Warren Defever. Thus, they don’t play live often, which made this showcase a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.

I’ve been keeping up with them since they released their fourth 4AD album Stars on ESP 10 years ago. That album abruptly shifted from synth-pop to gospel to Beach Boys imitations to noisy dub. Almost everything they’ve done since has been characterized by such stylistic inconsistency. After two surprisingly streamlined albums that paid tribute to classic R&B to mixed results, their latest release Detrola found Defever diving back into the sonic gumbo of his ‘90s work. Obviously, I didn’t know WHAT to expect from their live show.

They began with a free jazz instrumental, during which Warren handed percussion instruments out to random members of the audience. They followed that with the Prince-ly electro-funk workout “Seven Minutes,” during which Warren obscured the pretty singing of his female vocalist by unleashing blasts of grinding distortion from his guitar. They ended their set with “I Can’t Live at Home in This World Anymore,” the gospel tune that reappears in various forms on Stars on ESP. The only unifying thread in HNIA’s performance was Warren’s total refusal to take himself seriously. He introduced the jaunty piano-based song “Get Your Curse” as “a song about how I wanted to kill myself after my mother died,” and went on a hilarious rant about how Detroit is a more dangerous city than Austin.

In short, HNIA were just as unpredictable live as they are on record. I was very pleased!

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