Ratatat at the Echoplex, July 12
By John Payne
The all-seeing Ratatat came into public view in 2004 with a self-titled debut that made some of us scratch our heads as we smiled very wide. They were two New York guys named Mike Stroud and Evan Mast -- on guitar and bass/programming respectively, along with a raft of clunky but funkily low-bittage canned beats -- who made an all-instrumental music that truly seemed indefinable. It was electronic, it was classic rock, it was renaissance fairytale music: it was none of the above. Most obviously, the sound of the ‘70s draped over everything they did, evoking an odd hybrid of disco-era Bee Gees, Boston and early videogame music.
That sound/feel definitely came mainly via Stroud’s digitally-doubled electric guitar lines, which pervade the band’s music and which dominated Ratatat’s fist-pumpingly danceable set at the Echoplex on Saturday night. The only reason that guitar sound is an issue as such is that it became obvious tonight that, absent this characteristic ‘70s classic rock guitar thing, the gist and punch of Ratatat would quickly get lost in the aether, because it’s just so conceptually oblique.
Stroud and Mast were joined by a keyboardist to further flesh out and harmonize, a good move as it lifted the songs up and over a mere string of classic rock themes-with-beats into more evocatively nostalgia-laden, florid reworking of their Classics and recent LP3 albums. It was kind of heartwarming (but a bit weird) to see how enthusiastically the crowd greeted catchy favorites such as “Gettysburg” from Classics, whose standard counterpointed guitar and bass seemed to emanate from a medieval garden on its way to the Inglewood Forum circa 1974.
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The format was subjected to several perversions, like on “Shempi” from LP3, among a number of tunes that included breaks for percussion jams by Stroud and Mast, then segued easily into programmed drum & bass-type beat hysteria amid masses of Mellotron and Hammond B-3 samples and bizarre bluebeat interludes, then vaguely Spanish themes. When those everpresent mountains of octave-split guitars wrapped around the pretty lines of “Brulee” from the new album, the song then dovetailed into a big ball of classic Motown, Jamaican lovers rock of the ‘70s and that Lynchian/Bobby Vinton surreal ‘50s dreamy pop. (At least that’s what I projected onto it.) True, the bludgeoning mix coming outta the PA obliterated much of the pointillistic intricacy you might hear on the boys’ records (admittedly, I was standing right in front of the speaker stack), but equally true is that for a live presentation, deliberately using a lot of volume and distortion was not just appropriate but sonically correct.
Ratatat ladled out their music in short if not especially sweet doses, in hypnotic, circular patterns that emphasized both melodic grace and skittery, tuff beats -- and about eight pounds of sly humor. And none of their songs were blues-based. So refreshing…
The opener was E*Rock, the brother of Evan “E*Vax” Mast of Ratatat, on laptop beats and aural mayhem conducted by the wave of his arms connected to a couple of Wii controllers. His hairy, intense finale sounded like all music collapsing into the depths of hell at the end of time.
If you missed the show, don't fret. They return to LA for a two night stint at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theatre on September 9 & 10.