Empty Bottle – Chicago
The Chicago winter turned tepid and pelted the city with a sloppy rain that egged on my desire to not leave the house. In late November, I had caught Dosh backing Andrew Bird at the Logan Square Auditorium. While he wasn’t as kinetic Kevin O’Donnel, he proved a solid accompaniment to the spectacle that is Bird. At the November show, I had secretly wished for a sort of blending of Dosh and Bird’s styles to make an Anticon-seeped version of Bird’s solo orchestra. I had missed Dosh’s solo set that night, so I had honeslty no idea as what to expect for the show. Electronic music acts are always tough to predict. Aphex Twin was a notorious prankster to cover up the shortcomings of live electronic performances; he’d hide in the corner of the stage behind a cardboard tree or lay in the middle of stage with the laptop on his chest. Given the studio heavy reliance of the genre you never know how live sets will unfold. By the time I had to leave for the Empty Bottle, the weather had lessened and wandered out to the show with little reserve.
I arrived at the early, before even the first opener, Brenmar Someday, had begun his set. I walked into the main room and saw a lovely array of toys: several keyboards and drum machines, half a drum kit, a bass, and a plastic trumpet. After each member of the band arrived, they began to churn out a dense mix of keyboard drones and jazz bass, out of which twisted a clean beat. The music was right in the middle; up tempo enough to cautiously dance to, but it retained a cool enough vibe to be chill. Later in the set they brought out a female singer named Elissa Pociask who accompanied them on keyboards and vocals. They started to do a reasonable take on mid-90’s trip-hop with her soothing voice helping round out the groups’s sound. For the rest of the set, they had a mild bit of schizophrenia, often alternating between dissonant techno and lush, pleasing numbers which were easy to nod along to. While I personally appreciated their wanderings into the Music is Rotted One Note-era, drill’n’bass noise, it’s a tough card to play for the first opener of the night. With the way they’d alternate between the two genres, it seemed like they were almost unsure which side to stick with. That kind of struggle could have lost a few potential new fans.
After some technical difficulties, Daniel Givens got up and running. With just a Powerbook, MIDI controller, and a chaos pad, he played a set of vaguely dub influenced laptop techno. Much to my surprise and delight, he accented the songs by doing spoken word along with the music, recalling at times a stoned Saul Williams. The music wasn’t bad; a layer of sequenced keyboard noise planted above a sparse rythym track. While the general feel of his set was enjoyable, it wasn’t captivating. This minimalist setup accentuated the shortcomings of live electronic performance. As with a lot of laptop-centric music performed live, you’re left with a guy sitting at his computer, which only gets you so far.
As a stark contrast to both openers, Dosh began his set by building off a massive warm drone. The sound from his Rhodes drew me back into the main room like an analog siren. He sat nestled in the middle of his triangular setup manipulating the tones, blocked in on all sides by his equipment. Over this, he sequenced a click beat and then deftly turned around to accompany himself on the drum kit. Dosh’s live layering each new element atop the growing swarm of noise made it clear why he and Andrew Bird toured together. They both employ the same house of cards style of live sampling and layering, nerve wracking and beautifully complex. Dosh’s approach to creating electronic music live is a good example of how one man can not just do the work of a whole band, but surpass it alone. It’s as visually captivating, as much as it is musically satisfying, (to catch a glimpse of Dosh’s setup, check out this video from the Anticon website). The second song had a frenetic off-key pace, making it feel abstractly like Rimskij-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee, adding further tension and attention to the process of construction. After he built the song up to its apex, he seamlessly switched gears and to start anew on another, leaving no real beginning or end to it. I overheard a guy behind me loudly proclaim to his friend that “it was just all improv,” but I could identify melodies from his earlier release Pure Trash. I think that it’s just easier to rationalize the whole process if he were just making it up as he goes along, but as a testament to his talent, he’s reproducing identifiable works. The songs were complex, but accessible; built from warm tones that give you a bright and sunny feeling without being too overbearingly saccahrine. After a while of watching him perform, my brain checked out, coaxed into a comfortable submission by the swirling undulation of each song. For the rest of the set, I enjoyed the music, sat back and sipped my drink, realizing that this was a perfect way to spend the second to last day of the year.
Previously published on Loose Record