The Electric Six stopped in to play at The EARL last Saturday as part of their tour with The Constellations. The Constellations always draw well in Atlanta, and this night was no exception. Their enthusiastic hometown crowd was augmented by all those Atlanta area Youtube junkies that just can’t stop queuing up Electric Six videos. I’m not entirely convinced, however, that The Electric Six’s live show lived up to the tremendous expectations placed on them.
I remember seeing an infantile version of The Electric Six at The 4th Street Fair in Detroit in 1998. Back then they called themselves The Wildbunch. Even at that early phase, Dick Valentine was already writing absurd rock party music with an intellectual edge. They were a good band. A few years passed, The Wildbunch became The Electric Six, got signed to XL Recordings, and released Fire in 2003. Fire was an amazing album that yielded two incredible singles for which they’ll always be known, “Danger! High Voltage” and “Gay Bar.” Their ridiculous music videos from this period have found a new life on Youtube, where Dick Valentine is variously portrayed as a centaur, a casanova, and Abraham Lincoln.
It’s too bad that their live show doesn’t seem to incorporate the penchant for the dumb and the dancy that’s so consistently reinforced in their music. While they performed admirably, delivering up the keys, guitar, bass, and beats necessary to render the sounds on their recordings, their stage presence was noticeably lacking. They were dressed in business casual lounge music clothes, the stage wasn’t decorated whatsoever, they didn’t move around much, and they sounded utterly standard. Dick Valentine growled his way through the set with his signature rock swagger, though while his fans certainly tried to connect with him throughout the show, I didn’t see much evidence that he was trying to reach out to them. I wasn’t sure if he was preoccupied, “mailing it in,” simply uncreative, or all three. I expect a Detroit rock band to have great sounding guitars, I expect them to be able to locate a fantastic drummer, and I expect there to be a solid bass player and keyboardist in the area. And that’s really The Electric Six’s failure here; they didn’t do a single thing that surprised me.
Thus is the difficulty placed on bands that succeed, especially when they succeed in cultivating an image that casts them as creative svengalis. Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” Without a doubt, The Electric Six are a great band that writes masterpieces like “Down at McDonnelzzz,” perhaps my favorite song of the night. I just wish they’d put aside professional pop sensibilities long enough to deliver a crazier stage show that focused more on surprising and delighting their audience.