In the wake of their critically acclaimed album, Sisterworld, The Liars European tour touched down in Berlin with both Health and Fol Chen along for the ride.
With their lo-fi dance pop and cryptic marketing strategies, Californian sextet Fol Chen have been generating a small buzz on the anglo blogosphere. Whilst their approach is more polished than tonight’s dual headliners, there are some unmistakable similarities in their willingness to stage cross border genre raids to produce something largely new and unexpected.
In their natty red pyjamas the Chen abandoned their customary arch anonymity for a set which combined parlour guitar rock outs, twee synth driven falsetto harmonies and a pleasingly clattery drum kit. Instruments and vocals were shared and songs fell away leaving a single instrument or accappella chant, almost living up to their record company’s promise of “songs of malaise and miscommunication set to dark pop and glitch-riddled chamber funk.”
The overall effect at the Volksbühne seemed a little polite and underwhelming but their closing number’s In Ruins apocalyptic intro, “the bonfires are blocking the streets tonight but I don’t mind. Phone’s down but I don’t care, you got a flare so meet me at the checkpoint and you can take me dancing” promised darker pleasures and bodes well for their forthcoming release, Part II: The New December on Asthmatic Kitty.
With an immense pall of dry ice hovering over the stage, Health wasted no words before getting down to business. A floor tom augmenting the immense breathless assault of Crimewave.
Rampant blast of jagged noise were offset by sweet falsetto harmonising, elements and instruments dragged out and shared around in a constant dialogue that focused on projecting a sonic assault as opposed to beard stroking introspection.
Health remain awed and intoxicated by the transcendent noise they produce, their faces screwed up in ecstasy or pain as percussion was bludgeoned into submission, midi controllers were stabbed with fingers and mono-note riffs decayed into howls of feeback.
Despite its excellent sound and sight lines and the fact that the seats had been removed, the Volksbühne can have a somewhat deadening effect on music, reducing it to indifferent theatrical spectacle for an audience that can afford the ticket price. In the case of this quartet, however, there was no doubting the sheer viscerality of their performance and the ease with which they assumed ownership of the stage.
Their set contained all the hyperventilating, verboten pleasures of stadium rock – energy, passion, drama, catharsis (and even some bombast), without ever descending to cliché or guitar solos.
It’s a brave band that are prepared to enter a stage vacated by Health but Liars are that brave, or maybe reckless. Joined by a couple of musicians from Fol Chen to make up the numbers, the Liars rattled through material from Sisterworld under a slide of a mysterious shiny pyramid.
Their set seemed beset by sound problems and unwanted shrieks of feedback, songs oddly truncated, sloppily and hastily executed. In fairness, Sisterworld’s subtle balances of quiet and loud, anger and beauty, meditative melancholy and abrasive noise were always going to prove a challenge to recreate live but its most sublime moments (Scissor) and its angriest (The Overachievers) just seemed tossed away, with Scarecrows On A Killer Slant, one of the record’s strongest songs, seemingly included only as an afterthought.
Returning for an encore as a three piece, they seemed tighter and more focussed on material from Drums Not Dead. Even the recalcitrant digital projection glitched briefly back into life before finally dying out. A hint at what could have been.