Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
December 5, 2010
@ Bottom of The Hill
Better than: Guitartone for the obnoxiously popular.
After more than a decade and a half of satisfying our needs for glitchy synth-pop and lyrical wit, Casiotone for The Painfully Alone commemorated his lucky thirteenth anniversary at Bottom of the Hill last night by giving up. How appropriately emo, right? But Owen Ashworth's last night of performance under the Casiotone moniker proved a celebratory occasion, with friends, family and his small cult following contributing to a sentimental yet lighthearted goodbye party.
Casiotone: For the first half of the show, it seemed Owen Ashworth would go out the way he came in -- painfully alone, with solo lo-fi programming at its most concentrated. Pensively hunched over his oversized car battery-looking synth setup, Ashworth delivered his first three albums' signature distillation of early Magnetic Fields gone awry in a purist form that made devoted fans smile.
The audience: Also for the first half of the show, the bulk of the audience seemed uncomfortably entranced by the bystander effect. According to a basic principle of social influence, bystanders monitor the reactions of other people in any situation to see if others think that it is necessary to do anything. When everyone is doing exactly the same thing (nothing), they all conclude that it's okay not to do anything. People who were drunk enough to not notice others around them began dancing, but once they looked around, they would slow to a stop.
Part of that might be the disorienting nature of the music. The rhythms of Ashworth's drum machines recall New Order at its most pummeling and groovey, but the music's lo-fi form makes you feel immediately silly when you try to dance to it -- the same sort of mental resistance you might face when walking into a room full of old people dancing to oldies. It's cute, but does anyone want to be seen enjoying it as much as them? But this contrast is part of what has made Casiotone for The Painfully Alone so endearing and special over the years.Lovefest: But while the audience's bodies may have been painfully unresponsive, its reception was adoring. The front row was composed of a militarily organized wall of affection -- fans that closed their eyes, smiled, bobbed their heads gently and moved their lips to every word. Everyone else saved all their expression for after songs, where the audience applause made the room sound sold out, even though it was only half full.
Not-so-painfully alone: For the second half of the show, Ashworth invited his friends and openers the Donkeys up on stage to back him for a full-band set. Many in the crowd slowly eased into the idea of moving their bodies, and Owen eased into the idea of organic instrumentation in the same way his career has.
Special Guests: Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters made an appearance for a song. It was a rather strange contrast, seeing two kings of sadcore savants mumbling deep tones into their mics, while the band insisted on riding waves of infinite enthusiasm. The keyboardist of the Donkeys kept calling Ashcroft "a great guy" throughout the show, and the drummer insisted on raising his drumstick into the air at every measure, as if he were playing glam metal, rather than emo.
Family gathering: And yet the disciplined performance suggested that despite the dividing personalities and musical styles -- the Donkeys proved with their opening set that they preferred dynamic, Pavement-style, guitar jam sessions over the more tempered -- everyone was good friends. Owen pointed out his mom at one point, steered clear of definite set lists, taking the occasional audience request, and exhibited his sense of humor regularly throughout the show. It was an intimate gathering more than any sort of concert.
A lesser known guest: Jason Queaver of Papercuts briefly played tambourine for a song. "He changed the way I look at music," praised Ashworth.
The Ashworth effect: This artist weaves some sort of psychic powers over his fans. When he sang the line, "call in sick," two people in the audience sneezed. When he sang a song called "Panda Days," somebody walked up to his altar and placed a small stuffed panda at his feet. The guy would talk about normal everyday things and people burst into laughter.
Best song description: "This song is about getting older and feeling dumb about what you used to do to your hair."
Overheard in the crowd: "1971 was the year Led Zeppelin ruled the world!" -- A rather unlikely comment for an emo-tronica show.
Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown