Grouper @ The Smell; Los Angeles, CA
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Hmm…What’s my least favorite venue in Los Angeles? That’s a tough one. When I first stepped foot inside The Smell last night, I remembered why the last show I saw there was so long ago. I hate it. It’s the worst. And it’s gotten worse. Ever since the online ‘zines have taken notice of a small number of LA bands, The Smell has become, like, the Fillmore of the underground “scene” here. Flashbulbs are constantly going off, and the majority of the bands who are booked there sound like sampled farts run through a series of envelope filters. Apparently all you need to “make it” as an experimental band in this city now is a crummy Behringer mixer, a microphone and some pedals. And the smug in that room last night…it was like the emetic verve of the Lower East Side and Williamsburg was oozing through cracks in the club’s brick walls. That’s how I felt for two hours last night before a pair of decent, original acts took the stage (Nite Jewel, Grouper). My disgust was compounded by the fact that I was the only person in the audience who did not manufacture his own clothing, was not growing a beard, and was not tattooed. Luckily, Liz Harris kept my eyes firmly on the stage and not on the annoying kids surrounding me. Shit, I’m getting old.
And, seriously, Grouper could not have been any better. Harris took all the nuances of her records and churned them out in a live setting, capturing the depth and beauty of all those compositions in a setting where I thought those subtle details could not exist. The mood was haunting, utterly dark, and staggering. It was shortly before midnight when she took the stage, but it just as easily could have been 4am in the middle of fucking nowhere. Distorted and murmuring sounds flowing from cassette tapes threatened to strangle both voice and guitar. To move around in the sweltering club was like moving through a dream. In the back of the room, audience members sat with their heads in their hands, trying to recapture or imagine god knows what. At the front of the stage, it was hard to keep your eyes of Harris. Having never seen a photo of her before, I can say that she appears to embody all the aspects of her music. Tall, preternaturally thin, and looking extremely fatigued, she was the physical manifestation of any of her songs. You got the feeling, through her open notebook filled with scratched words or ideas, she was performing a sacred ritual, not a show at a rock club. And when it ended, life returned to normal. Only now everywhere I go I’m wondering how a little bit of gauzy tape hiss might embolden the natural sounds of the universe.
Grouper. So amazing.
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