The Rapture are one of those bands that can be either energetic and tight or just plain flat and hokey. I’ve seen them put on a show where the audience was literally jumping up and down the entire time: these crowds practically exploded to the yelping beats of “House of Jealous Lovers,” then proceeded to tear the dance floor apart for the rest of the night. Of course, I’ve also seen people standing around, mocking the band with supreme disinterest. Unfortunately for them, the last gig on their current U.S. tour—a bloated lead balloon—inspired more of the latter.
The group’s newest record, Pieces of the People We Love, whipped through stores last fall with a relatively unfair absence of hype. Still, they managed to avoid the curse of the sophomore slump by releasing an unabashed dance-rock party disc packed with the vices and pleasures of rock ‘n roll—i.e., drinking and dancing all night long. It was infused with an array of compulsively infectious grooves; sonically, it proved the members of the Rapture had successfully grown beyond their 2003 success, Echoes. While the songs on Pieces are brimming with swagger and rhythm, they do not translate as nicely into the band’s live act. In fact, the current show is little more than a diluted version of the last tour: there are no major changes to the old stuff, and the new material lacks the computer-generated flash of the record.
Songs like raucous party anthem “Whoo! Alright Yeah…Uh Huh”—which actually has the audacity to sport the lyric “But is it lyrical genius or crap rock poetry?/ I say the lineage runs Morrison, Smith, then me” in an only mildly sarcastic manner—seemed to especially suffer. With the music stripped down to its dance-punk roots, the only thing keeping the crowd alive during this surprising downer was the steadiness of Vito Roccoforte’s drum kit. When the final chorus of the song proved all too prescient (it pokes fun at stodgy hipsters who don’t get their dance on to the Rapture’s sinewy jams), all you had to do was glance around to see the point driven home by a throng of limp, sad-eyed little men in thick black glasses and tight pants shuffling weakly. It was as though they had been fundamentally let down by the band’s lack of spunk. Either that or they were all audited by the IRS earlier in the evening.
The title track off Pieces suffered from being a little too stripped down and was left wanting for the studio sheen provided on record by Ewan Pearson and Paul Epworth (of Bloc Party fame) and the brave Danger Mouse. While “Gonna Get Myself Into It” lacked the requisite snotty New Yorker attitude that makes its sexy point possible on the album, singer/guitarist Luke Jenner’s whiny falsetto during “The Devil” bordered on unbearable (always remember that when it comes to falsetto, less is more).
Ultimately, there was just some phantom ingredient missing. That’s not to say that the Rapture are not usually a terrific live band—most of the time they are—but watching a grown man sing the line “purple dragons fly into your eyes/ milk shake/ shimmy/ cry and cry and cry” with a straight face is asking too much of a leap of faith from your audience, especially when the lyrics are delivered with a lack of enthusiasm.
Songs from the glorious Echoes held up solidly, but the motions were all too familiar. Jenner looked most comfortable when channeling (or was it aping?) the Cure’s Robert Smith for the umpteenth (though somehow still really enjoyable) time on “Olio”— the single moment of the show in which the crowd actually participated. Even the most woefully jaded indie kids unleashed their inner Goths to get a groove on to the glammy disco beat. “I Need Your Love” was just as good as it was when it was newly unleashed three years ago. And once again, trusty warhorse “House of Jealous Lovers” bailed the crew out of disaster with its cornpone cowbell antics and screaming fury (not to mention the night’s best use of a squealing guitar).
I’m mainly talking to Gabriel Andruzzi—founding member, keyboardist, and percussionist—when I say the “old act” hasn’t changed much. The shameless cowbell and mugging shtick must end with this tour. The Rapture must evolve past their frat-boy-esque wackiness for the greater good, not just of the fans, but for themselves.