Who says machines can't cry... or bicker?
A trio of middle-aged men hovering over electronic equipment. Is this the future of music? Could be. The Juan Maclean produce some of the catchiest electroclash around, stuff that makes even the most jaded of scenesters sway. Because the group's show was held on Super Bowl Sunday, the halfhearted fans (and the moshing jocks) were nowhere to be found. The crowd was packed with hardcore enthusiasts, ones willing to travel in sub-zero Montreal weather to hear the group's fusion of electronic dance and rock sounds - sounds that could potentially dictate the direction of the popular music industry for years to come. Yes, the show was that good. Well, sort of. Despite its lofty goals, the pace and tempo of the group's show was dictated by an unusual tension. The leader, former Six Finger Satellite member Juan Maclean, had been stopped at the border because he did not have his passport (let that be a lesson to anyone who plans on coming to Canada post-9/11), and thus the band was unable to do a proper soundcheck. Angst over the incident showed on stage as a simple disagreement broke out between Maclean and his two touring compatriots. This minor tiff eventually broke into a full-on shouting match, with the bandleader giving withering glances to the audience. To the crowd of not many more than 100 people, it seemed at first that DFA's secret weapon was jammed. But the music, like the men, became more ferocious, and the normally robotic yet-danceable material of the debut album, Less Than Human, began to feel... well, more human. Pausing for a moment early in the set, Maclean, already visibly frustrated for reasons only he knew at the time, addressed the crowd, promising them a good song. It felt like he was talking more to himself than to us, as if he was scolding himself for not putting on a truly great performance (even if the crowd was already dancing). He and his two bandmates then hammered out an aggressive, almost punkish version of "Give Me Every Little Thing", a song that incorporates dance, R&B, hip-hop, and electronic influences seamlessly. Following that was the non-album DFA-compilation staple "You Can't Have It Both Ways", which also sported a harder edge. On Less Than Human vocals are rarely done by MacLean himself, but on stage he and his two partners mangled and distorted their voices every which way. This not only made up for their inability to sing, but also provided an added sense of uniformity to the tracks. Though the group's songs are made entirely with electronic equipment -- save for the obligatory cowbell -- you never got the sense that the set was as rigidly choreographed as your standard DJ's. It felt more like a rock show: mistakes happened, things changed on the fly, and the band members' personalities could actually be felt through the music. This show was definite proof that the word "punk" does belong in electropunk. Maclean and his band were (luckily) able to keep their cool long enough to perform a set that went past 1 a.m. For the crowd that was patient enough to stay (the show was scheduled for 9 p.m. but did not start until midnight), it was a rewarding experience. We got to see a musical trailblazer at what was possibly his worst moment. And that's what made it one of his best. The DFA label has already turned the indie and club worlds upside down, but artists like Maclean add the bit of humanity needed to really roll over the mainstream.