On a warm Spring Chicago evening, Black Moth Super Rainbow and School of Seven Bells took the crowd at the Bottom Lounge for a psychedelic ride to a place where vocoders spoke of love and pain, and where ecstasy and horror evolved into joyful jubilation and perpetual elation.
Cracking open the door to this mid-week netherworld was Brooklyn trio School of Seven Bells lead by former Secret Machines guitarist Benjamin Curtis and twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza on guitar and keys. When their set began with a thick buzz and bump that rattled my rib cage, I had a feeling that the gorgeous and lush dream pop of their debut album Alpinisms was going to feel and sound a bit different in the live environment.
Flanked by the twins, with a curtain of bangs covering his face, Curtis kneeled down and began fiddling and twisting his mini-studio of laptop and mixers, while the Deheza sisters slowly merged their golden harmonies into one as the sparkling melodies of their guitar and keys sculpted the first song.
The set leaned heavy on Curtis as he fed his guitar into a mix of electronic effects and looping devices. At times it was hard not to think of his past creations, especially during the shimmering “Face to Face on High Places”, which seemed similar, and almost like an twin, or maybe an answer, to Secret Machines’ “Lightning Blue Eyes”. But as the set progressed it was clear that Curtis wasn’t trying to rehash. The comparisons quickly faded once the Deheza sisters’ warm siren vocals grabbed hold and took me upward on a spiritual journey filled with comfort and pleasure pop.
The lyrical wisdom that the sisters croon throughout Alpinisms took a backseat as the beauty of this show lay in Curtis’s strengths. He carefully mapped and mixed muscular riffs with gentle strums and picks. The trio’s faces glistened and glowed as they shook their hips ever so slightly and the crowd followed suit. They overcame a minor amp issue midway, and then glided through to the harmonic finale and subtle symphony of “Sempiternal/Amaranth”.
After a quick set change, Chicago rock poet Thax Douglas christened the second half of the night with a brief tribute poem to headliner Black Moth Super Rainbow.
But before the Pittsburgh psychedelic rockers unpacked a magic suitcase of fear, destruction, pain, anguish, grief, joy, sadness, hope, and ecstasy, we would have to wait through an oddly entertaining video tribute to the fans of Insane Clown Posse and a self-effacing video from the host of the Tim and Eric show that poked fun at “anyone stupid enough and silly enough to like such a ridiculously named band like Black Moth Super Rainbow.” Fans cheered, chuckled, and hooted their appreciation for being such “mindless followers and idiots.”
Then one by one the band members took the stage and a steady stream of sticky bass, murkily popping drums, humming Rhodes, and opulent vocals began to flow from the speakers.
While the meditative jubilation of flashing Novatron and woozy vocoded vocals filled the Bottom Lounge up to its rafters, homemade gore flicks played on a white-sheet video screen backdrop, while a hairy costumed character that looked like Sasquatch crawled on stage and joined the group of sleazy and short-skirted female and transvestite dancers who swayed like dejected Motown backup singers. All of them huddled over each other as if warming themselves by the fire funneling up from the man on the floor who whispered sunshine into a pink microphone.
This show tickled, touched, and tempted all my senses. They unveiled songs from their fourth studio album Eating Us (produced by Flaming Lips’ studio wiz David Fridmann), which doesn’t depart too far from what they’ve done before but adds more layers to the lush forest of their mythical wonder. Dipping into their last album, Dandelion Gum, “Sun Lips” floated images of Ray Bradbury munching on Big League Chew on a hot summer day through my mind as drum machines brought forth thick and sticky beats and samplers oozed psychedelic sounds seducing my inner parts and gyrating those around me. It felt like we were all frolicking through their hometown fields of western Pennsylvania in one gigantic mass of elation on a warm summer day.
As the set neared its final number, I looked around and saw euphoria painted on the face of fans. It was as if we were floating in the air and hovering over solar flares on the surface of the sun with bare feet but not feeling the burn, or maybe swimming through the group’s trippy and drippy album artwork. The happy tribe played on—relaxed, communal, and in full control of the folky electronic ruminations spreading throughout the venue.
And the show rang true. Because, together, the songs and the videos represented a truthful and honest union of nasty and beautiful that resides in our core. And it’s shows like this that allow the beauties and the beasts to run around and get freaky for a bit before it’s time to go back in the secret cage of our hearts and minds.