Show review: Atlas Sound at Paradise Rock Club – 3/8

Atlas Sound at Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA

The other night, I wrote that I seriously doubted I’d have anything to report from this show that was nearly as exciting as the ‘My Sharona’ incident in Minneapolis. I was actually pretty wrong. Bradford Cox surprised and enthralled in a number of different ways on Thursday night, and played one of the more memorable shows I’ve seen in quite a while.

Cox brought along Atlanta-based rockers Carnivores and one-man electronic act White Rainbow to open the evening. Carnivores played an upbeat and energetic set of psych-influenced garage rock tunes, with lead vocals alternating between keyboardist Caitlin Lang, bassist Philip Frobos and lead guitarist Nathaniel Higgins. The songs were seriously catchy, and the guitar solos got physically violent. It was one of those rare opening sets that’s engaging enough to make you forget that you had no idea who this band was twenty minutes ago. A great way to kick off the night, and a band that’s absolutely worth checking out.

I’ll take this opportunity to express my geeky admiration for this band’s gear as well. Higgins kept a Fender Blender on his pedal board (my personal choice for a fuzz box), and played a neat, vintage looking Stratocaster knockoff. Additional props for having a theremin on stage and actually making the thing sound pretty awesome.

Following Carnivores, I suppose I was expecting another garage-y indie rock band. Instead, there was White Rainbow. White Rainbow, aka multi-instrumentalist Adam Forkner of Portland, spent his set manipulating an enviable table of mixers, keyboards, pedals and other musical gadgets. The music started off in ambient territory, but quickly evolved into a beat-driven sound featuring improvised keyboard solos and Forkner’s sampling and looping of his own vocals. The songs segued effortlessly into one another, and only once did Forkner pause to address the audience, remarking on his choice to wear sunglasses in the dark and on the fact that most of us didn’t look like frequenters of the club scene. The crowd didn’t quite know what to make of White Rainbow at first, but he definitely had most of us dancing by the end.

Around 10:45, Bradford Cox finally took the stage and opened the Atlas Sound set with a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Tonight’s the Night.’ Forkner briefly joined him on bass, and Cox remarked, “We might revisit that one later.” From there, the setlist focused heavily on songs from Parallax, the latest Atlas Sound LP. Cox’s tendency toward extending and improvising on his own songs was readily evident, especially with this new material. Older cuts from Logos were gorgeous but concise, while many of the Parallax songs stretched to double or triple their original length. Each one was gradually constructed from a series of expertly sequenced loops. Cox would begin most songs with chords or a melody on acoustic guitar, then add and subtract multiple layers of percussion, bass and electric guitar to create massive soundscapes.

It was an incredibly impressive one-man show on a technical level, but transcended mere ‘loop-jamming’ to create beautiful and organic-feeling songs. Cox’s voice assisted greatly with that. On Parallax, the vocals can feel a bit distant in the heavy layers of reverb. In a live setting, they felt more front and center, and the songs benefited from it. Lyrically, this material feels the most personal of any Atlas Sound or Deerhunter record, and Cox’s ruminations on relationships, fame and disillusionment are words worth hearing.

In a general sense I think the Parallax songs were improved by a live treatment. I wasn’t totally sold on the LP when it was released last year, but I’ve found myself eager to return to it after this show. Songs like ‘Te Amo’ and ‘Terra Incognita’ benefited from the expansive scope of their live incarnations. Melodies and words felt grander and truer, and what lay at the heart of the songs felt easier to appreciate. Other highlights included a slower, more contemplative take on Logos’ Noah Lennox collaboration ‘Walkabout,’ as well as a drastically reworked ‘My Angel Is Broken,’ featuring a few Neil Young lines tossed in for good measure.

Neil was a recurring theme throughout the night. Bradford did indeed return to ‘Tonight’s the Night’ for his penultimate song, mirroring the track’s reprise on its eponymous record. Cox eschewed more Atlas Sound material entirely for his encore and launched into the song once again. This eventually evolved into a large-scale jam session featuring all members of Carnivores and White Rainbow (resuming his spot on bass) which lasted upwards of thirty joyous minutes. There were multiple breakdowns and buildups, and at one point Cox (now sticking exclusively to his electric) was playing one of the signature riffs from Television’s ‘Marquee Moon.’ The whole thing then briefly morphed into The Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog,’ before veering back into Neil Young territory. All of this was entirely unexpected and an absolute blast to watch. Boston was the final stop on this tour, and Bradford and company were clearly eager to make the most of their last night on stage together. The evening eventually came to a close with Bradford imploring the audience to shout/chant “TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT” as loudly as possible, which we continued to do as everyone left the stage and Neil’s studio version faded in over the house speakers (props to the Paradise sound guy for syncing the chorus up with us).

It was nearly 1 am by the time I walked outside into a gorgeous Boston night. The trains had stopped running and I was left to walk back to my dorm for the night, which had luckily remained opened over spring break. None of this bothered me. I left the show buzzing with the atmosphere of a legitimately exciting, spontaneous and flat-out fun performance. As on the evening of the already-infamous ‘My Sharona’ episode, we got the full set of ‘sincere white people music,’ as well as an extra something special. There was a rare communal air about the whole thing. The guy next to me was as pumped about that ‘Marquee Moon’ fragment as I was, and the whole room was participating in the shout-along by the end. Such a phenomenally good night on so many levels.

And now, pictures. A slight improvement on the photography for Twilight Sad, yes? I’ll learn to operate a camera properly one of these days.