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Published: 2005/05/15
by Jesse Jarnow

Caribou and Four Tet, Bowery Ballroom- 5/4

NYC ROLL-TOP: "Strawberry Fields Forever" Forever

One of the standard arguments for jambands is that they fight the good fight against the Man by being spontaneous, playing different shows every night. From a purely musical perspective, the reason to keep going back is to hear something different. But, sometimes, it ends up being a shell game, bands merely playing variations on the same kind of "new" formula every night, drawing out a dramatic ritual only to get to the same kind of climax, the same variety of wacky cover, the same type of special surprise guest. Arty/indie/electronic acts like Caribou work towards the same end — creating a transcendent experience for the audience — with almost wholly different methods.

On record, Caribou — known as Manitoba 'til Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators (who'd never issued a disc under that name) sued him — is the product of Dan Snaith, a Canadian-born laptopper with a Ph.D in mathematics and a predilection for the psychedelic outro to "Strawberry Fields Forever." Live, Snaith is an art-rocker. And though he will likely play the same set for every given show on this tour — right down to backing tapes — it is a performance orchestrated specifically for the outing, a work in its own right. Last time out, he was accompanied by a pair of conspirators, the trio decked in jeans, hooded sweatshirts, and pig masks, who tag-teamed with Snaith on drums, guitar, bells, samplers, and keyboards.

Presumably, it was the same conspirators (unnamed on his website) who joined Snaith at the Bowery Ballroom on May 4th, filling out the pure sunshine fix of his recently released The Milk of Human Kindness with double drummer thunder and all manners of tripped-out video projections. The band made no bones about using pre-recorded tracks to push the music to full, flowering density. They chose Snaith’s vocals on summery numbers like "Yeti" to be covered by the machines (which seemed unusual until one remembered their glassy detachment) and instead focused on aspects of the music that might have a more immediately visceral impact. As such, all of the arrangements rotated around cresting, rolling drums, as well as sounds that burbled on the periphery. The effect was ecstatic. Snaith also carried with him a $10 march-table-only mix-disc/album (titled, poetically, Tour CD) — another charm of the indie approach.

Domino labelmate Four Tet — Kieran Hebden — took the stage just before Snaith for a straight laptop set featuring music from his equally psychedelic new disc, Everything Ecstatic. Like the music on the album — as well as his recent remix EP for Madvillain — Four Tet’s set was dense and rich, filled with refracting textures, bold technicolor swirls, and microscopic beats. Nestled between Caribou and sets by subpar Postal Service-like laptop/sensitive-dude hybrids the Junior Boys and the wonderfully named Russian Futurists, it was hard to get into (danceable though it was). Still, it was entertaining enough to hear Hebden dance (or, more accurately, dissolve) the line between atonal noise blurts and rhythmic headfuckery. It was beautiful music sadly rendered dramaless — though no less unique — by its surroundings.

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