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Picture Book and Review: Grimes, Elite Gymnastics, and Myths @ The Basement at Graveyard, October 1st

[ 1 ] October 3, 2012 |

Photos By Hillery Terenzi, Review by Chandler Mays

In today’s music scene, the notion of an “overnight success” has become status quo. One minute, you’re making electronic music in your bedroom, and you’re known locally thanks to your friends’ Facebook shares; the next minute you have a stamp of approval from Pitchfork, your amateur DIY music video gets a million hits in less than a week, and you’re selling out every venue on a world tour. Such is the story of Grimes, a twenty-four year old Canadian who creates highly danceable experimental dream pop for the freshly turned masses. The Basement was certainly sold out. Personal space was nonexistent as the crowd amassed around the stage, and “knowing your neighbor” became quite an intimate affair.

Myths started the night off with a strange set of brash, punk-infused electronic dance songs. The two female lead singers would awkwardly dance around stage, shouting back and forth at each other over distorted beats, reminiscent of a less melodic Crystal Castles minus the 8-bit samples. Their intonation resembled a female Beastie Boys, except instead of clever, quick-witted lyrics, they shouted unintelligible nonsense at each other which reverberated into a muddled cacophony of psychedelic absurdity. They would headbang and let out piercing screams. During a song, one them grabbed a pulsating strobe-light and waved it at the audience, nearly giving us an epileptic episode. Myths essentially took the conceptual elements of punk and noise rock, then applied them to electronic dance music. The audience was bewildered at first, but by the end of the set, everyone started to “get it” and groove along.

Elite Gymnastics took the stage next, consisting of one man, James Brooks, who for each song would hit play on his Ipad, then bashfully sing into the microphone, most of the time with his back to the stage. I’ll start with my one substantial complaint about this set: Brooks desperately needs a backing band. It doesn’t matter whether he adds a live drummer, a keyboardist, a guitarist, or all three, but something needs to change. Brooks’s stage presence is not distinguished enough to carry on an entire set without actually creating some of his music for us live. His disposition is timid and overtly modest, which is commendable, but it clearly lacks in frontman charisma. Now with that complaint behind us, I will say that Elite Gymnastics’ music was highly enjoyable, packed with 90’s influences and catchy hooks. Brooks began the show with a cover of “Say You’ll Be There” by the Spice Girls. I found myself singing along, surprised that I still knew most of the words. Afterwards, he shyly stated, “That was a song by the Spice Girls. This next song I wrote, so it’s not as good.” Brooks has a pleasant baritone voice which exudes a kind of vulnerability that creates an intimate connection between himself and the audience. I wanted to pat him on the back, tell him that his music is great, and he doesn’t need to apologize for playing it. He’s essentially your reclusive friend that doesn’t realize his artwork is worthy of presenting to the world. I immediately fell in love with his closing song, “Andreja 4 Ever”. The tune is a love-child of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”, Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway”, and Tribe’s “Can I Kick It” with Brooks’s delicate vocals swimming within. With songs like that, Elite Gymnastics will become an amazing live act if Brooks ever decides (or can afford) to add a couple band members.

By the time Grimes was ready to perform, everyone was pretty uncomfortable. Many were refusing to go to the bathroom or buy drinks for fear of losing their position. I could no longer tell whether those around me were strangers or my new lovers. With flowers adorning the equipment, smoke filled the stage, and Grimes stepped on to deliver an hour of perfectly performed dance pop. Was it worth it? Most definitely.

As soon as the first notes filled the room, the audience went crazy. The sweaty bodies shifted, swayed and bounced against each other until we all figured out a way to dance as one congruous unit. I usually take notes on my phone during shows I’m selected to review, but there was no possible way I could even reach my pockets during the performance. At times, when the crowd surges would compress around me, I could literally lift my legs off the ground, suspended between my neighbors. When Grimes played “Oblivion” and “Genesis”, the crowd peaked in a frenzy of energy, and all the fans that weren’t dancing had no choice but to fall back. I was soaked in beer and sweat, most of it not my own. I don’t think I’ve experienced a hipster dance party that strenuous since MGMT at Bonnaroo, 2009. Grimes’ vocals were pitch perfect. Her voice sounds like Kate Bush and Enya gave birth to a woodland nymph from a Japanese anime show. Her sound is otherworldly, and she would loop beats, add samples, and layer her voice on top of itself to create a gorgeous soundscape of ethereal electronic music. Grimes put on a pitch-perfect show, and she seemed genuinely happy to be there, and I couldn’t ask for more from a performer. Grimes has managed to overcome the stresses of being thrust into the limelight and become a truly inspirational artist on the front lines of musical innovation. I look forward to see where she goes next, but until then, I’ll play Visions on repeat.

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Category: Live Reviews, Picture Book

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  1. Matt says:

    Thanks for the review. I saw the show the next evening in Birmingham, and my perspective is a bit different. I’ll skip the first two acts, as they were more or less like watching kids play with a computer and microphone.

    Grimes makes very interesting music. Live? It’s obviously still a challenge. This is DJ territory, with little of the on stage theatrics many of those can afford. I suspect she lip-synched a fair portion of the show, as there was a very notable difference in the vocals at times. The crowd reacted to her fairly simple push-button beats. Grimes is a compelling talent, but outside of her current indie flavor of the month appeal, she hasn’t yet created a strong live presence. If the ticket had been a bit more expensive, I’d have felt cheated a bit.

    I think it’s an interesting discussion, this new live frontier. Increasingly the club and small venue circuit is being populated with one or two person laptop jockeys. How do you make a compelling show out of that? What I saw in Birmingham was happy drunks hopping around to a beat. Pressing down a key on a synth in your local guitar center might produce a similar effect with enough available liquor. I think Grimes is going to have to up her game if she continues to tour, because the it factor will wear off.

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