[Originally published 1/9/2011]
What: Little Dragon (and Billy Goat)
Where: The Echoplex
When: January 8, 2011
Better than: Your average KCRW-endorsed Swedes
Little Dragon and Billy Goat managed to defy both the recession and the weather and blew our socks off in front of a packed house at The Echoplex. Good job that.
But before we get into this wonderful show – and it was pretty great – we need to talk about the fact that it was quite cold. Cold enough that scarves were abundant, most people wore hats, and for our part, we actually noticed the weather for a change. So what the hell was this guy thinking:
This guy works at the Echoplex. It turns out he's from Idaho, is a former Marine, served in Iraq and now when he isn't making sure things don't fall apart at Echoplex, helps prepare active soldiers for duty in Afghanistan. And just to make us feel that much wussier, wears shorts and a t shirt when it's 42 degrees. He was a really nice guy, no doubt about it, but we can't help but feel a bit embarrassed that while he talked to us blandly, as if it weren't cold, we shivered in our piled-upon-layers of not warm enough clothes and pretended not to be jealous.
But back to the show. It was packed. A line stretching down Glendale blvd of the sort normally reserved for Taco Zone greeted us when we arrived, and even that didn't do justice to the scene inside. People crammed against the stage 45 minutes before opener BIlly Goat started, just to stare at the projected graphic that served as a palate cleanser for their show. Due to the enormous crowd that beat us inside, here's half of what we were all staring at for nearly an hour:
After several minutes futzing about with their A/V equipment, Billy Goat began a brilliant, and shockingly unassuming show at 9:15, almost right on schedule. If you haven't heard them, rectify that immediately. They play prog-ish instrumentals that occupy a space somewhere in between Air and Sigur Rós, the kind of music you don't so much listen to as simply feel. On first listen it seems better suited to documentary soundtracks or solo drunken benders, than to live performance, and that impression isn't changed by the fact that they do everything they can to submerge themselves behind their music. Clad in understated jeans and t shirts, they sat in front of their instruments, the three members facing each other rather than the audience, reduced, by the delightful animations projected onto the screen above them, to mere silhouettes.
It's not easy to pull off a live performance that depends entirely on your audience paying attention solely to your product, be it your music or music + things to look at. We can attest that artists of far greater acclaim – Ulrich Schnauss, for example – fail utterly at this. Billy Goat managed to play hypnotic, beautiful music and keep the audience's attention firmly fixed, despite the fact that their interactions with the crowd consisted solely of sheepish apologies for tech errors associated with their originally produced animation. It' true that the animations accompanying their songs are really fucking cool, but the music stands for itself.
Billy Goat manage to lull you into a semi-comatose state and yet are never boring. And about their animations; that prog label is thrown around a lot these days, but it's 100% accurate. Not only because you have a bunch of music dorks without any interest in thrusting their junk in your face, playing complex, creepy music that seems suspiciously like tonal arguments for trying heroin on for size. No, they also created original animations for every one of their songs, and these films are chock full of batshit insane sci fi imagery that is equal parts Omni and pre-glastnost Europe.
pig Goat. That'll do.
Anyway, after Billy Goat's set ended, we took a moment to eat a sandwich and knock back some wine (surprisingly good! The bottle was freshly opened!), and then set about preparing for Little Dragon. Little Dragon is the kind of band with two types of associated people: their ZOMG biggest fans evarz, and people who have no idea what you're talking about. It was amazing that for a band who have never had anything remotely resembling a hit, they have a LOT of people who love them dearly. Like these ladies:
Upon discovering that our photographer had never head of Little Dragon prior, they proceeded to preach the gospel old school assuring her that it's even better having not ever seen or heard them before, since she was going to get to do both for the first time – both of them insisting that they wish they could do that again. And they weren't alone. The entire crowd seemed to have treated the occasion like a hipster cotillion.
Or this delightful woman who really, really deserves a standing ovation for rocking the masquerade look:
When Billy Goat's set ended, rather than disperse for drinks,smokes/etc, the crowd swarmed around the stage, packed in like anchovies as they waited, for 45 minutes, for Little Dragon. No, seriously, that really happened, everyone overdressed, sweating, gabbing and generally cramming as close to each other as possible for almost an hour. We actually saw a young mother with her baby. No joke, an actual human infant with noise reduction headphones on. Sadly we weren't able to get a photo, but trust us, we are not making it up. Point: insane dedication all around. So was it worth it? Yes.
Little Dragon is a weird thing to describe. They're a Swedish band fronted by a Japanese-American-Swede who sings in English, and they play a style of music somewhere in between Morris Day, Tom Tom Club and Soft Cell. One almost feels like an overseas call center needs to factor into this somehow. Singer Yukimi Nagano is famous for her bizarre/sexy stage presence – half Kabuki and half drag show – and while we can't say it was out in full force this night (previous LA appearances have been crazier), it seemed to strike the perfect balance between insane and simply awesome.
During a staggering version of “Never Never” (from 2009's Machine Dreams), the entire place seemed to shut down while Nagano belted out “I could never have what you have” like it was her last will and testament. But the evening's stand out was an up tempo version of “Constant Surprises” from Little Dragon's 2007 eponymous debut. Half the audience sang along, at least at the point where Nagano repeats “I like to call it fate” again and again. And this includes people standing in line for drinks. It's a funny thing seeing someone interrupt the bartender to sing along with the band. However cynical you are (and we are), that's amazing. It was a devastating performance.
The set consisted of an equal number of songs from both of their extant albums, but they did (semi) debut some new material from their next album. We couldn't catch the name of the song, but we did catch that the new record comes out in 2011. We'll blame the cheap bar wine for that oversight. Whether or not the crowd caught the title, they clearly ate the song up. Dancing isn't always something that happens at LA shows. The members of the audience who weren't singing did everything they could to disprove that fact.
Don't make fun- everyone looks stupid when they dance. The sexy thing is not giving a damn about it. Whatever else Little Dragon accomplished, they got a whole room of Angelenos doing just that. Color us impressed and, after downing a little too much cheap wine, tired. We went to bed with visions of Japanese-Swedish cabaret singers dancing in our heads. Not a bad way to end the night.