Deerhunter frontman and prolific neo-psych darling Bradford Cox performed last night as Atlas Sound — his mellower, but equally trippy bedroom solo project — at Great American Music Hall, with the UK dulcet pop band Broadcast co-headlining. TweetBeatSF was there spacing out, live.
8-8:30 pm: Selmanaires from Atlanta, Georgia start things off promisingly with a very atlas-sound-inspired pleasing psych melody. A very smooth sound, thanks to bongos, xylophone, and a nice Fender Rhodes…but then they switch to some down-tempo electronic drumbeat that feels too cocktail lounge for its own good. The vocals are strained and kinda whiny, and are grating. Now they jam-out late 70s-style, a la Television’s Marquee Moon, and it sounds good. Uh oh, the singer dances awkwardly, but not Michael-Stipe-good weird, more like middle-aged-dad-bad weird. You’re embarrassing me, Dad! And now it’s clear what this band lacks: a compelling front man.
9-10 pm: Broadcast start off REAL loose. Completely uncohesive, random-seeming noise, and the vocals are swimming in a sea of reverb, delay, and loops. It’s just the two of them – lady in a 70s dress and a bearded hip guy – squaring off on machines in front of a giant screen showing shapes, black and white trees, and other imagery. After 20 minutes of dithering, Broadcast breaks into more accessible songs, with bass-heavy drum beats and echoey vocals. The sound is muddled, but thankfully her vocals are strong enough to carry the songs. The singer has some elements of Stereolab and Grouper – very talented. Eventually they hit their stride and the songs really come together: the bass lightens, the beat is strong and infectious, and the vocals sway gently between. The crowd approves. Broadcast end their arty, ethereal set to hearty applause.
10:45-midnight: Atlas Sound begins with Selmanaires as the backing band. Now it’s crystal clear: Bradford Cox is the compelling frontman the Selmanaires were missing. An orgy of guitar pedals is set up teasingly around Cox – it’s like psych rock porn, and Cox is the ringleader of this pedal gangbang. He handles the effects adeptly, layering songs without letting them run away from him. The sound is warm and gorgeous, the tone a perfect combo of sweet and sad. I love this man. Most songs start off with Cox looping his guitar using the delay pedal – it’s obvious the songs originated with Cox alone in his bedroom – but the band fills out the sound nicely.
An annoying girl (on drugs I think) up front keeps begging for a tambourine. The crowd votes against it but Cox eventually caves and tells her to keep it mellow. Clearly this turd can’t hold liquor or a tambourine, and she fucks up the song. Cox compliments her on her tambo playing to my disgust – Cox has a heart of gold – but luckily the drummer asks for it back and the show is saved.
Cox apologizes for the occasional missed chord but I don’t think most people notice or care. Not an unkind bone in this man’s body. Fans yell requests between songs and he tries his best to accommodate them. They play ‘Sheila’ – the lines ‘Cuz no one wants to die alone’ and ‘Sheila – we’ll die alone together’ sum up Cox’s melancholy lovability.
They finish a fantastic set to an embarrassingly weak call for an encore.
Underappreciated at a sold-out show? Wtf? Cox comes on for a solo encore – just him on his acoustic. He plays what seems like a simple ditty with harmonica until the effects kick in and now the song is layered and booming! It’s amazing what Cox can do armed by only an acoustic and some pedals. I would definitely watch him play a solo set. 2-song encore and he’s out.
Atlas Sound is totally my favorite band of the moment, and seeing Cox live only cemented my love.