Simian Mobile Disco: 23 April 2009 - Highline Ballroom, New York City
This night found Messieurs James Ford and Jas Shaw bringing their British brand of minimalist electronica to the Highline. Though their ascent, and hype, in the electronica scene has paralleled that of French duo Justice (they also like to remix each other and release albums on the same day while sounding completely different), they are decidedly geeky and focused in concert, eschewing the rock-star pranks the Parisians flaunt so effortlessly.
Instead, Ford’s mass of curls sometimes bobbed along to the beat but more often scrambled over and around a giant console of knobs, wires, and switches that dominated the center of the stage. Watching the duo scurry around their unit, like mad-scientists tweaking their gizmo as it pulsates with life, elicited images of Raymond Scott composing on his storage-unit sized synthesizers.
Though the Highline is innately clubby (note the mood lighting and lounge-inspired elevated seating areas) much of the crowd was listless and observant. It may have been the bland opening DJ sets by JDH and Dave P, but any excitement for SMD didn’t seem to carry over. Such a noncommittal vibe was partially excusable, though, as SMD’s set was expected, with an emphasis on the Attack Sustain Decay Release catalogue. Such predictability sucks the fun out of concerts, but so does an uninspired crowd. It was unfortunate the show lacked the type of track that is capable of lifting a performance to new heights, instilling a sonic souvenir that endures and is forever associated with the band, but the dull crowd was equally a bummer.
This anticlimax was sort of surprising as Shaw praised the live performances of Jamie Lidell in a recent interview, citing them as a model for artists. I’ve had the privilege of seeing Lidell—at the Highline as well, coincidentally—and there is a huge distance separating the two groups in terms of performance. Lidell commands the stage, his band, and audience with flair, while SMD, more or less, is all fish-bowl effect, like watching surgeons in an operating amphitheatre. Unless everybody brings their dancing shoes, it can be a disappointment.