Nation of Language played Brighton Music Hall – 3/4

NYC synthpop trio Nation of Language brought the groove to BMH earlier this month.

At this point in its decade-plus history, Noise Floor has tried its hand at a number of different blog iterations. It’s always been about the music (man), but at one time or another I’ve tried running news, reviewing albums and operating a deconstructed weekly radio show (more on that in a future post). Ultimately though, the site has settled on revolving around the intersection of live music and photography. With that in mind, I’ll preface my thoughts on this month’s Boston Nation of Language date with a photography story.

I was late to this gig. Very late. Traffic and several other things were not on my side, and plenty of time to make NoL’s 9 p.m. set time turned into basically none. I was driving back from elsewhere and had no time to make it home and swap out the two film cameras I had on me for my digital gear if I wanted to catch any of the set at all, so I devised a plan to improvise. I had a roll of Fomapan 100 loaded in a Minolta point-and-shoot I was testing out (a variation of this guy), and figured that with an f/2.8 lens and a relatively fast minimum shutter speed, I could rate the film a few stops faster than box speed and push the developing with my still-new-and-exciting home setup. I’d bested this situation. Totally figured it out in a pinch. I’d have moody, high-contrast shots that totally fit the band’s chilly synth aesthetic. I could even develop them that night!

So I blew through an entire roll, firing off 3 frames of the Portra 800 in my rangefinder that I was mostly planning to shoot the next day as backup, and took off after the set to do some late-night chemical engineering.

As they so often do, however, this plan had a fatal flaw. I had neglected to account for the fact that this Minolta came from a particularly cursed Craigslist lot where each camera seemed to look fine, only to exhibit some strange error mid-use. Almost as if they’d been intentionally cordoned off from the general population of cameras for that reason…

In short, the Minolta Hi-Matic AF failed in its test run by simply not AF’ing. The few shots I’d taken pre-gig and everything during the show seemed to be focused at minimum distance. The lens element apparently never moved to focus. This wasn’t a shocking result, exactly, but the sense of disappointment upon pulling the roll out of the tank and finding abstract blobs instead of sharp(ish) silhouettes was still palpable.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, maybe, but I’m choosing not to learn it. Relying on a decades-old piece of gear with a past it doesn’t like to discuss to capture something is definitely stupid, but that’s part of the thrill – the adventure – of shooting analog. It’s certainly why I don’t primarily do that at shows, but it’s hardly a push to stop doing it altogether. Discouraged, but not deterred. (That particular Minolta is definitely leaving the stable, however).

My ranting about this extremely niche concern aside, how was Nation of Language?

Nation of Language were great! I’d missed out on the band’s 2020 debut, but found myself instantly hooked by last year’s A Way Forward. The group’s marriage of Kraftwerkian rhythms and human synthpop charms hits an undeniable sweet spot for me. I had to catch the live set (even if, as we’ve covered, the timing was tight).

The portion of the show that I made it for saw the trio bathed in lurid red light, having already worked a sizable crowd into a euphoric state. One glance around the room could tell you their following is feverish, and with good reason. They’re stylish, they’re catchy, referential but not retro, and they do it all right on stage. The fusion of instrumentation both live and synthesized – Aidan Noell on keys and Michael Sui-Poi on bass – brought the songs to life with a lively punch, while vocalist (/sometimes guitarist) Ian Richard Devaney supplied the moves and charisma to make them transcend.

Here’s hoping they’re back in town soon, both so I can see another set and get a proper gallery this time.