Regardless of how spectacular a live set a band puts forth, sometimes the audience is all it takes to make or break a show. Liars and Fol Chen graced New York on two nights—one at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom and one at Williamsburg’s Music Hall of Williamsburg. Although both venues are decidedly “hip” and quite similar from an interior standpoint, the former show, on April 15, brought forth a far more aggressive breed of Liars fan than the latter, although the April 17 show saw both bands firing on all cylinders.
Liars are an engaging live band because their two major attributes—front man Angus Andrew’s uncanny ability to appear simultaneously goofy and terrifying and the immense sonic assaults produced by drummer Julian Gross and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Aaron Hemphill (and, on this tour, two members of Fol Chen)—work so well together. Whether swaying his hips as if to keep an invisible hula hoop from dropping, dancing rhythmically around a fireside only he can see, or (as he did on the Music Hall of Williamsburg night) aiming an air machine gun at the crowd during a more violent new track (“Scarecrows on a Killer Slant”), Andrew is well equipped to lead his minions wherever he wishes to take them. One front row denizen at the Bowery show even appeared to be speaking in tongues at times.
Although adhering to a similar set list on both nights, one which touched on the more brutal moments of Sisterworld as well as favorites throughout the band’s back catalogue, songs were equally immersive on both evenings. The most noticeable deviations on Sunday night were the absence of tender love song “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack” (which Andrew sung on Thursday with his head half inside a travel case) and the presence of the stupidly fun “Freak Out”. These two disparate songs are as indicative as any of the musical side of Liars’ live fervor. One song transports you far away from your sweaty surroundings, and the other makes you care less about just how cramped it is up front, so long as you can stamp around with the strangers on either side.
It seems as though this live formula Liars have concocted is so faultless that even the most disaffected of hipster would surrender futilely, but not so. Although the crowd on Sunday night was reverential and even took part in some moshing, a certain sense of stillness was apparent. Conversely, the Bowery Ballroom show saw the crowd engage in all manner of ’90s rock dancing, from aforementioned moshing to crowd surfing, despite Andrew deadpanning that the latter was no longer cool. The frenzied nature put forth by the crowd Thursday evening, as well as all the songs about witchcraft and the grime underlying Los Angeles’ glitziness squalling from the stage, made for a more intense and memorable set.
Although Fol Chen have a pure groove that is sorely lacking from a lot of electro-leaning indie bands, the stiff kids still outnumbered the movers on both nights. Still, more than a few followers made themselves known in the Bowery audience, requesting and moving on out to modest hit “Cable TV”, which—thanks to an appearance from Fol Chen friend Patrick—was given even more of a sleaze funk edge than on record. This groove also helped take an edge off of the sometimes paranoid inclinations of Liars tunes.
By the second night, Fol Chen’s songs felt welcome in a way that old favorites do. On both nights, all four members dressed in boiler suit orange uniforms, and who doesn’t love a band who still manages to be funky in such an uncool and garish dress code? At Sunday night’s Music Hall show, Andrew even went so far as to declare Fol Chen “The most awesome band in the world.” Who’s to argue with indie rock’s most intriguing – and possibly tallest—front man? Maybe it really is time for the stiff indie kids to step aside.