3 Oct 2011: The Mohawk Austin, TX
The kinds of adjectives used to describe Gang Gang Dance gives one a sense that merely experiencing the band live would be a sort of life altering experience. Words like “euphoric”, “communal”, and “joyous” gush out of music journalist’s mouths at the mere mention of their name, and many fans use these same descriptive terms. Naturally, then, these kinds of accolades made expectations for their show at the Mohawk exceedingly high.
Unfortunately, the fact that the band’s reputation preceded them worked to their detriment. While it was not a bad show by any stretch of the imagination, it was not enough to warrant using hyperbolic language to describe it. Maybe the blame lies with the fact that it was a Monday night in early October, or because the crowd didn’t engage in any behavior that would qualify as communal or euphoric the vast majority of the night. Whatever it was, it felt like there was something missing from the band’s performance that kept them from reaching the kind of highs so often attributed to them.
If performances were judged on sound quality alone, Gang Gang Dance’s set would have fared just fine. The band sounded tight, and they flowed through their multiple shifts in tempo, tone, and style with very few hitches. The band is well schooled in their brand of dense and challenging soundscapes, and for that they should be commended. Drummer Tim DeWitt was particularly on top of his game, as he should have been considering percussion plays such an important role in the group’s sound. Vocalist/percussionist Lizzi Bougatsos sang her often indecipherable lyrics with a fair amount of enthusiasm and energy, and the other musicians demonstrated their vast array of technical skills (on guitar, synth, etc.) throughout the night. There is no denying that this is a group of extremely talented musicians, but the overall experience was hampered by some odd pacing decisions.
It was evident that some of the band’s more experimental tendencies got the best of them. Many of the songs throughout the night tended to blend together, making it seem like they moved on to their next thought without finishing their first one. With songs ranging from four to eleven minutes long, the lack of structure made for an otherwise confusing experience. Additionally, the band decided during the middle of their set that a ten minute jam session with little to no direction was a good idea. This slow, synth heavy interlude felt a lot longer than it should have been, and created a sort of irritating tension for them to return to the more upbeat numbers that preceded them. Thankfully, they managed to turn things around towards the end of their set, and the audience finally began to loosen up a bit when the band began playing songs they recognized again.
In addition to the doldrums that resulted from part of their set, the band’s lack of interaction with the audience kept them from elevating their set to a joyous, communal experience. Aside from Bougatsos engaging in some nonchalant banter between songs and the occasional arm movements, the rest of the band remained relatively stoic and detached. While this demonstrated their attention to what was being played, a little more enthusiasm on their part would have been welcome. The band tried to compensate by bringing a friend onstage whose sole duty was to wave a makeshift flag and move about, but even he seemed distant. As a result, until the more groove-heavy final third of their set, most of the audience’s movement consisted of simply bobbing back and forth to the music, a far cry from the tales of people completely losing their shit.
While there were no insufferable aspects of Gang Gang Dance’s performance, one couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by it all. Things may have been different if the band had kept the forward momentum going the entire time, or if they had engaged more with the audience. There’s no denying the band’s talent and the overall quality of their recorded material, and their live sound was for the most part fully realized. As it stands though, to describe their Mohawk performance with the kind of ethereal adjectives so often associated with them would be a very big stretch.
// Notes from the Road
"Rhiannon Giddens, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, brought her Freedom Highway tour to New York for a powerful show. The tour resumes next week and hits Newport Folk later this summer.READ the article