Demon pop. All I could think watching Blonde Redhead’s two hour set at New York’s Irving Plaza was that this band must surely be comprised of demons. Or evil elves, or malicious sprites, or some other kind of otherworldly, mischievous creatures. Blonde Redhead’s brand of experimental pop music is manic, nervy, ecstatic, and strange. They are a tight three piece, consisting of Kazu Makino and Amedo Pace, both on guitars and vocals, plus Pace’s twin brother Simone on drums. This odd collection of nationalities (one Japanese and two Italians) reputedly met in a New York Italian restaurant in the early ‘90s and has been making quirky, offbeat records since 1993.
On stage, their presence was just as unsettling as their music. Makino kept her head bent down over her thick Gibson guitar, hiding her face in a mess of black hair. Her movements were tense and anxious—she had the air of a possessed automaton as she pounded out the band’s signature dissonant, off-time riffs. Amedo Pace complemented her dark mysterious solemnity with a stiff, almost nerdy posture as he contributed his own tinny, tinkly, spider web leads and fills. Drummer Simone Pace sat upright and tall, joyfully pounding out his dragged-out, stuttering beats and gleefully pushing these bizarre pop nightmares to their breaking point. For long jams, Makino and Amedo Pace would crowd around the drum set in a bizarre congress, all three puppeteered by their jerking and jolting pop music like a group of young David Byrnes singing “Once in a Lifetime”.
If Blonde Redhead’s dissonant chords and winding, meandering song structures weren’t enough to alienate less adventuresome listeners, Kazu Makio’s off-kilter, thoroughly unique vocals put the band in a class of its own. She is an odd, unlikely indie pop star, combining an aloof, aggressive stage presence with a tiny, breathy, heavily accented squeak of a voice. She is also an elusive, elfin thing—at times, coming off as on her own plane entirely—while cackling over Blonde Redhead’s singular sonic experiments. A case in point: As Amedo Pace’s guitar suddenly stopped working during the “Strawberry Fields Forever”-tinged opening to “In Particular”, Makino blurted, “His heart must be beating really fast”! Much like Bjork, Makino seems to be from another dimension, sent here to transmit her bizarre and oddly intoxicating pop messages.
The band concentrated on material from their latest record, 2000’s Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons. On tracks like “In Particular”, “Melody of Certain Three”, and “Hated because of Great Qualities”, Amedo Pace and Makino wove an intricate web of intersecting and conflicting guitar lines, as Simone Pace’s staccato, elaborate drum patterns kept Blonde Redhead’s wacky pop tracks lively and varied. The band was tight and entertaining, yet curiously detached. They rarely acknowledged the audience, concentrating on their twisted and tormented tunes. The mode, however, was not alienating, but light and airy. The chugging, bouncy “In Particular” best sums up the evening—after the tracks had meandered and wandered for seven-plus minutes, both guitarists let their instruments drop as they performed a series of gleeful handclaps into their microphones. It was bizarre, funny, cute, endearing, and singularly unique. In short, it embodied what Blonde Redhead are all about.