Photo credit: Danielle Levitt
In case you haven’t heard, Angus Andrew wants to be a horse. Some people may have tried to convince you that it’s a put-on, but I assure you, it’s true. Allow me to explain. Andrew is frontman for Liars, those self-consciously arty New Yorkers who became everyone’s favorite post-punk/post-funk band with the 2001 release of their debut album They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. Seemingly uncomfortable with the album’s modest indie success (it’s not like it went triple-platinum, people), Andrew and Liars musical mastermind Aaron Hemphill enlisted a new drummer, called up producer/all-around-badass David Sitek, and recorded the most divisive album in recent memory, this year’s They Were Wrong, So We Drowned.
Hemphill and Andrew brought the noisy sounds of the new album with them to Chicago’s Logan Square Auditorium, an upstairs venue that’s only recently started putting on shows, acting as a satellite for the Empty Bottle. It’s a suspiciously upscale space (especially for the neighborhood): shiny hardwood floors, chandeliers, high ceilings, a balcony. It’s the type of place you’d have a Rotary Club breakfast, not a rock show. I love it.
It’s a somewhat weird venue, and Liars took the stage in a weird way. Hemphill came out, looking shy and deferential, and waved bashfully to the crowd as he picked up his guitar. Then Julian Gross, the new drummer, came out in a black mesh top and a short sequined skirt. The crowd cheered, even as they winced. Gross and Hemphill started hammering out “Hold Hands and It Will Happen Anyway”. After several minutes, Andrew pranced onto the stage, with feathered black gloves and a tiger tail attached to his standard indie outfit. He struck some animal kingdom poses before removing the gloves and proceeding to r-o-c-k.
And that’s just it with Liars, really. Some critics will get hung up on the tiger tail or the sequined skirt and laud them or condemn them right there. Of course, it’s the band’s own fault. Liars are “arty” for the sake of being arty, and there’s no surer way to draw critical wrath, whether it’s in the clothes or the music. But as I watched Andrew circle Gross’ neck with the mic, chanting “choke, choke, the devil we invoke,” establishing the new material’s witchcraft motif, I realized that, hey, this isn’t all that different from the 2001 Liars everyone knew and loved. It’s rock music—drenched in noise and fright and chanting, but rock music nonetheless. Isn’t that what everyone loved about They Threw Us All in a Trench?
Oh, and don’t listen to all those critics lamenting the loss of bassist Pat Noeker and drummer Ron Albertson. Those guys were funky, yes, but make no mistake, Julian Gross can lay it down, even while being pushed or strangled by Andrew. In fact, those drums were the only thing holding a lot of the songs together live, as Hemphill played with feedback and Andrew pranced.
It’s also good to see how little we critics affect a band’s reception. The crowd at this show was just as big, drugged-up, and scary as when I saw Liars a year and a half ago. Liars went through pretty much every song on the new album (you weren’t expecting them to play “Mr. Your on Fire Mr.” were you? That’s sooo 2001), closing with “They Don’t Want Your Corn, They Want Your Children”. This song saw Andrew picking up a bass and gave us the night’s most straight-forward punk/funk moment. After both Andrew and Gross had left the stage, Hemphill stayed, making me laugh as he placed his guitar next to the amp, then meticulously took down every mic on stage and pointed them at it.
So, really, why does everybody gotta hate on Liars? I know, they are intentionally trying to be difficult. And their weirdness can definitely seem suspiciously over-constructed. I’ll tell you this, though: I don’t care how planned out it is, Angus Andrew is one scary motherfucker on stage. He’s a maniacal, strutting, marching, shouting, chanting, choking spider who makes my flight instinct kick in like no frontman I’ve seen. In a much-maligned lyric from “Broken Witch”, he proclaims that “I no longer want to be a man / I want to be a horse.” Feel free to roll your eyes if you want, but believe me, the man’s not playin’. He’s just crazy enough. He wants to be a horse. And I, for one, am not going to risk telling him that he can’t.