After dancing my ass off at the El Rey on Sunday night, here's what I've successfully established:
Miike Snow is not: mythical, Mark Ronson, a lonely Swedish dude, a blinged-out jackelope.
Miike Snow is: where the party at, secretly into Phantom of the Opera, responsible for some unexpected hearing loss, and capable of reproducing a dance album live and sans laptop. Other than those self-evident truths, I'm still processing all the literal and metaphorical smoke and mirrors (and lasers!) – but damn, did I have a good time.
The show opened with Canon Blue who is actually one dude, but who is not Scandinavian, despite his sound and record label (Rumraket). Since you've probably never heard of him, a brief history lesson: Nashville-based Daniel James released an album and an EP back in 2007, on which he both wrote and recorded almost all of the music by himself, with a little mixing and mastering help from everyone's favorite Grizzly Bear, Chris Taylor, as well as Cristian Vogel. Pretty bad ass, but try recreating that live.
Dan brought some extra hands along to show off tracks from the new record he's working on, set to be released in August (hopefully.) And while Colonies and Halcyon are both really smart, clean albums, their live translation and this new stuff is even better, louder, heavier. Canon Blue's live set sounds like what you'd expect from someone Southern-born and Scandinavian-released: there's obviously some folk story-telling in that DNA, but the sound is more minimalist electro-pop. It might have been Canon Blue's first gig in two years, but no one in the audience noticed.
By the time ten o'clock rolled around and Miike Snow, in all its mystery and vowels, wandered on to the stage, Canon Blue + ubiquitous beer had turned the classy El Rey into some sort of bumpin' frat house.
Amidst an assault of heavy smoke, rainbow laser beams, and rabid audience screams, the band appeared wearing all black and matching white JabbaWockeeZ masks. This little gimmick further prompted some existentialist angst: who is Miike Snow? What is Miike Snow? Why's the dude gotta double up on vowels?
En Phantom-face, the group started off the show with a wall of noise, which more than anything reminded me of seeing Geologist do fourteen minutes of “Fireworks” at the Music Box last year. They loudly worked their way into “Black & Blue,” thankfully removing their masks at song's climax, because I was a little creeped out by the juxtaposition of lead singer Andrew Wyatt's mustache peeking out from underneath all that anonymity. And without the masks, you can begin to construct who/what those people on stage actually are.
Andrew Wyatt is not Miike Snow. Andrew is a cute American songwriter, who teamed up with Swedish producers Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, or rather, Bloodshy & Avant. You might not have heard of them, but I bet they produced your favorite Britney hit, “Toxic.” (Or at least, apologies to “I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet a Woman,” it's my favorite.)
This live show is awesome because unlike many electro acts, their set is actually live: no laptops or iPods, no singing over pre-recorded tracks, no drum machine, nada. So watching them re-construct their self-titled album in real-time is like watching 2k10's version of an orchestra, with each instrument and device being expertly layered and tweaked to create a symphony.
Honestly, I don't even know how they did it. While Andrew wandered around the stage, acting as lead singer, occasional pianist, gnarly guitarist and generally attractive creature to look at, Christian Karlsson plus a fellow-guido friend riled up the crowd, providing dirty beats and gratuitous fist pumps. (Note: I say guido with love, plus they're not actually guidos, since at least Christian is Swedish. But with slick hair and diamond earrings, they look like they rock their fair share of TGL.) On the opposite side of the stage, nicely-beared Pontus Winnberg busily created some sort of other reverb noises while holding down keyboard and occasional singing duties. A drummer also quietly lurked in the dark, and I think another bassist/guitarist floated in and around the stage.
It all felt a bit like that classic Dickens story, A Tale of Two Genres. During sing-a-longs like “Silvia,” Andrew sang a catchy pop ballad while the guido-duo held a straight up sexy dance party. On almost heavy metal-ish “Plastic Jungle,” Andrew's slurred voice plus that electro-static sounded a lot like the hook from “Toxic,” or Diplo's remix of Britney's more recent “Circus.”
But the best part of the night was easily their most famous hit, “Animal.” As the pseudo-reggae beat grows faster, eventually hitting warp speed, Andrew sings, “I change shapes just to hide in this place, but I'm still, I'm still an animal.” Good pop music has that democratizing ability, to turn everyone into instant friends. I saw moms with their kids, trashed sorority chicks tripping in their heels, hipsters with season tix to the El Rey, bros in Ed Hardy tees and True Religion jeans, and every other varietal of Angeleno all dancing together, like animals, or at least creatures of some sort.
Like their opener Canon Blue, Miike Snow's album is good, but their live show is ridiculously good, if unrecognizable from its recorded counterpart. Live, the trio rips apart and deconstructs all that pop sensibility, amplifying it into heavier, messier dance tracks and losing all that sweetness one associates with today's Swedes. To use an over-used phrase in dance music, Miike Snow blew the roof off the pretty, little El Rey.