Caribou: 14 October 2010 – Austin, TX


Very rarely does one go to an electronic show for the experience of watching the artist perform. The vast majority of the genre’s artists are simply content with hitting a few buttons on their MacBooks and standing still for an hour, occasionally breaking the mold by swaying back and forth. The idea is that the music does the talking, but unless you are completely consumed in the experience, watching someone twiddle knobs will only take you so far.

Caribou mastermind Dan Snaith is well aware of this, perhaps because his music is too expansive and grandiose for the experience to be replicated by opening MP3 files. As such, he tours with a full backing band, consisting of guitarist Ryan Smith, drummer Brad Weber, and bassist John Schmersal. This, coupled with Snaith’s energy onstage, helped morph Caribou’s set at La Zona Rosa into a joyous, memorable set of songs from one of electronic music’s most eclectic and forward thinking artists.

Snaith’s versatility throughout the set kept things interesting from the get go. In addition to playing the synthesizer, he would sit at a drum kit set up for himself and pound away with Weber, who is an astounding drummer himself. He also took to the electric guitar on crowd-favorite, and possible career highlight “Melody Day”, his strums contributing to the day-glo vibes that permeate the song. His light and pleasant voice, while not the primary focus of his songs, sounded right at home on the La Zona Rosa stage. Schmersal sang lead on several songs, almost pitch-perfectly echoing Snaith’s croon. The band sounded tight, and played off of each other with effortless ease, demonstrating that the intricacies and nuances of Caribou’s work can be translated to a live setting with clarity and precision.

The vast majority of the group’s set contained material from Snaith’s latest album, Swim. While the songs have a darker feel compared to some of his earlier work, they are not overtly melancholy or foreboding. Snaith described his overall artistic vision for the record was to make “dance music that sounds like it’s made out of water,” and the slightly fuzzed, yet melodic and expansive tones of songs like the instrumental “Hannibal” and “Leave House” perfectly exemplified this as they were performed. The vintage synths of “Kaili” were instantly recognizable, causing the crowd to begin moving their feet and applauding rapturously. The group played almost every cut from Swim, and they saved the album’s best two moments for last.

Set closer “Odessa” is the song that chillwavers wish they could make. This is because it takes many of the aspects that have made the genre such a phenomenon over the last couple of years and channels emotion, rather than nostalgia, into them. Over one of the best bass lines of 2010, big drums, and a cornucopia of instrumental and percussive layers, the band set the backdrop for Snaith’s tale of a woman leaving her significant other after enduring years of mistreatment, making the song both haunting and endearing. “Sun” was the sole song in the band’s encore, but it perhaps best encompassed the atmosphere of the evening. The band played an extended version of the song, going for close to 10 minutes, playing their instruments with the same energy that they had brought throughout the main set. They were enjoying themselves on stage, knowing that the transition from Snaith’s laptop to a fully realized, living suite of songs was something that gave the crowd even more of a reason to enjoy their decision to see Caribou on a Thursday night during mid-terms.