[30 April 2012]
It’s been a long time since I found myself so unexpectedly won over by a live performance but that’s precisely what occurred while watching The Dø (pronounced doh) in front of a full house at La Maroquinerie in Paris.
The evening began on a tranquil note, as the band casually walked out to perform their opening song on a particularly dim-lit stage. It was a slow number that I didn’t recognize, apparently entitled “A Mess Like This”, but it’s true purpose seemed to serve as warm up more than anything else, for both band and audience. It worked. Moments after the opening number ended the performance truly came to life. A guitar fed the audience the opening notes to “Aha”, from 2008’s A Mouthful, as lead singer Olivia Merilahti paced the stage in eager anticipation. The song could serve as an archetype for the band’s music, in that it is not easily classifiable and doesn’t quite sound like anything else in their catalog. Midway through, the song breaks down and changes tempo and mood, then picks up speed again only to drop us right back down. Keeping the energy up, the band followed with “Gonna Be Sick!”, and “Too Insistent”, both from the band’s second release, Both Ways Open Jaws.
The band, whose core consists of the duo of lead singer and guitarist Olivia Merilahti and multi-instrumentalist Dan Levy, was supported by a guitarist and a percussionist, who utilized everything from hub cabs to what appeared to be a string of wrenches serving as chimes. All four members managed some heavy multi-tasking throughout the performance as well.
On first listen, the band’s records can be a bit overwhelming. In fact, it’s almost too easy to dismiss since there can be so little to immediately grab hold of from one track to the next. There are certainly more experimental bands out there, but few bands straddle the line between pop and experimentation so well. If the music can occasionally come across a bit random and ramshackle, the performance produces the opposite effect as it reveals itself to be extremely well orchestrated. The same can be said for their appearance. It would be an understatement to say the pair are extremely easy on the eyes (not to mention some of their promo shots could double as a fashion magazine spread), and this has most likely earned them as many casual fans as it has caused others to immediately write them off. In spite of whatever assumptions their images will conjure, their talent is undeniable.
The middle of the set brought “The Bridge is Broken”, one of the band’s more recognizable numbers and while the song lacks any proper chorus; it resonates in the most infectious way. The song also showcased the band’s greatest asset; the interplay play between the band’s core duo, as Merilahti’s piercing vocal style was anchored by Levy’s incredibly slick bass groove. The track “Dust It Off” reeled us in with a delicate but bouncy keyboard line, while the isolated vocals turned the song into something trance inducing. The trance didn’t last long as the song quickly descended into the chaos and clutter of drums and keyboard fuzz. The set came to a close with an extended version of “Slippery Slope”. The track started with a short sax intro by Levy (putting his jazz influence on full display) but it turned downright tribal with the addition of clashing, bombastic percussion. A light inserted into the bell of the saxophone randomly cast light across the room adding to the chaos on the music. The encore featured, “Was it a dream?”, the most straightforward numbers in the band’s arsenal, which used simplicity to great effect with the hook coming in the form of three subtle keyboard notes in between verses and horns joined in towards the end to add a little depth.
With such a disjointed style of music, it would seem impossible to develop any real flow within a concert setting, but the band’s ecstatic performance became the thread that linked everything together. The performance managed to be quirky while never crossing into novelty but most importantly it solidified the notion that assumption and expectation can often be pointless endeavors.