The Danish alternative band, the Raveonettes closed out the first annual Middle of the Map Fest, trotting up to the stage, such as it was, at midnight. The singular duo made its second appearance in the Kansas City area in roughly six months. The band last played at Lawrence’s Scion Garage Fest in October, 2010. But tonight’s sonic display was something of a different monster, as the band was tight, cutthroat, and decidedly unapologetic in terms of its overall approach, attitude, and musicianship. It was an excellent show but few actually noticed. The Raveonettes, Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner, played most of the nine cuts from its latest album, Raven in the Grave, which had been released a mere four days prior to the gig. Thus this officially sold-out festival slot was nothing more than a de facto record release party, and it showed: while the songs were well-done and sounded well, the band was less loose and open.
The other half of the one hour set predominantly entailed standout and popular tracks from previous albums, but it was not particularly a fair and balanced sort of arrangement. In point of fact, only one track from the band’s last album, In and Out of Control (2009), made the list, the infectious, undeniably good “Heart of Stone”. Foo has stated that she didn’t feel totally “connected” with the last album. On the other hand, three tracks predictably arose from the band’s influential third album, Lust Lust Lust, “Dead Sound”, “Lust”, and of course the mandatory, signature track, “Aly, Walk With Me”. Wagner’s unending guitar riffing on “Heart of Stone” was considerably well-played, but at the same time it turned rapidly tedious, despite its accompanied noise, drum-banging, and electronic sound effects. Same with the uber-sedating closer “Aly, Walk With Me”, save for its louder, more rocking bits. But the band even played rarer material (“My Tornado”) from its first EP, Whip it On (2002).
Still, aside from hawking Raven in the Grave nearly to the crematorium, it was rather troublesome and dodgy not to play at least one or two more songs from In and Out of Control. For example, the roughly two-minute “Oh, I Buried You Today” could have been performed by Sharin Foo alone; as she brilliantly rendered it in Lawrence last year. Another great live song from the band’s last album also probably should have been played, “Break Up Girls!” is a remarkably fine, loud, material highpoint last year too, but it does require more than one band member to pull off an effective rendition.
Let’s get to the new material: Sharin Foo prefaced the hypnotic song “Apparitions” by stating its name, thereby applying suggestion, one of the few solid tactics used by the band. As it turned out, the audience happily cheered at its end. Other songs from Raven in the Grave didn’t fare so well; the stellar, decadent “Evil Seeds” should have garnered more applause than it did. New songs were indeed played well, and they were well-rehearsed by the band, but the audience remained unaware and largely quiet. There was an absence of screams. That gets me to one of my main points of criticism: the band must not be bashful about its showmanship and its ability to engage, but not pander to, the audience.
The Raveonettes performed their music minus any noticeable mistakes, but they used few tactics to appeal to the audience. Their tactics: two drummers; suggestion; dancing; promoting the new album twice; playing most of the new album. Sharin Foo used three of these, but ultimately the band’s stage presence was too bubble-spaced and reserved, cautious but not boring. Alas, the hillbilly surf-rock song “Love in a Trashcan” received the loudest cheers. From Raven in the Grave two songs were vividly euphoric, “Recharge & Revolt” and “Forget That You’re Young”. Foo and Wagner’s vocals were virtually indistinguishable, but these two songs mainly featured just one vocalist. Wagner opened the show with “Recharge & Revolt” picking up a silver mic off the floor. He put stress on the song’s canned vocals while he let a hired gun take over on guitar. Foo’s vocal work on “Forget That You’re Young” was sincere and melancholic, but also precise and significant. Her slow dancing was most charming and seductive as well; it was a keen action.
Nevertheless, there was a profound cleavage between both band and audience. (An apt metaphor: the cleavage was nearly comparable to the de-militarized zone that sits between North and South Korea.) Simply put, the band must appeal to the crowd. Selling records may be fine, but people also buy into bands. Why not ask for song requests? Why not cover Buddy Holly or the Velvet Underground? I recommend “Heroin”. Why not play the band’s recent cover of Stone Roses’s “I Wanna Be Adored”? Why not play another song from In and Out of Control? Why not play some of the more provocative material such as “Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)”? Hole’s Courtney Love has noted that fans in the U.S. “demand a lot” relative to European fans, and I would respectfully submit that this point is doubly so if an audience doesn’t know the ditties: first the crowd expects to learn the songs and then it seeks some combination of technique and ostentation, or meltdown. Frankly, the audience at this gig was silly and appalling, and appeared unfamiliar with either the band or its new material. An exceptional show, with few exceptions.