Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012
Better than: A cyborg prom.
Noise Pop festival organizers probably envisioned a thematically cohesive night when they booked Grimes and oOoOO as co-headliners for Wednesday night's show at the Rickshaw Stop. After all, the two artists, essentially one-person projects, had already picked up some buzz in and around the Internet-fueled scene known as witch house (although both artists bristle at the label). The recent release of Grimes' Visions, a bionic dance-pop masterpiece, changed all of that. Deemed Best New Music by Pitchfork about, oh, five seconds after it was released, Visions has elevated Grimes, aka Montreal's Clair Boucher, from the underground into the stratosphere of Internet stardom. But despite her elevated status, she and oOoOO (aka newly minted San Franciscan Chris Greenspan, himself a hot commodity) still made one hell of a dynamic duo.
Greenspan took the stage after a batshit performance by Canadian trio and Grimes backing band Born Gold (more on that below). In keeping with his stoic persona, Greenspan played while buttoned up in a parka with the hood up, and spun a set of alternately formless, irregular, and then unexpectedly rapid-fire beats. He'd spend moments obsessively twiddling knobs or injecting samples of air-horns, Three 6 Mafia, and (if I'm not mistaken) frat-rock legends Human Beinz, then settle back for a few seconds to sway to his Frankensteinian compositions.
As fashionistas in hot pants and suspenders gyrated to "hits" (if you can call 'em that) like "Mumbai," a black-and-white projection depicting urban scenes in hazy slow motion loomed behind him. This writer eventually figured out that the menacing subject of much of the footage was actually Greenspan himself. The man obviously has some swagger. He offered further proof by scattering flowers into the crowd at the end. He then disappeared unannounced, his last track still emitting powerful electronic drones before eventually winding down.
oOoOO undoubtedly garnered the support of the hometown crowd by recasting gauzy electronica, the Dirty South, and a chin-strokey pop as genres that play nice together. However, it was Boucher's Grimes that proffered the most dramatic musical détente. First off, she has presence: in photos, Boucher can whip herself up into such cybernetic harshness, she makes Roy Batty look like Commander Data. Bowie is a touchstone; so are Kraftwerk's animatronic robot props. And in Wednesday's military attire and full-length naval coat, she recalled the brashness of immortal, omnisexual 51st century Time Agent Captain Jack Harkness (look it up).
But that's only part of the story. In the pictures, you don't see the girl in Army boots hauling her own keyboard around, tangling herself in a mess of stereo cables, and fiddling around with everything by herself before launching into what are, at their core, bubblegum pop songs (albeit with beats and vocals cut up beyond recognition). Grimes retains a large measure of willful amateurishness: She claims Mariah Carey as a primary vocal inspiration, but when she's not processing her singing to the moon, she recalls the prime of Cyndi Lauper, her excited yelps deliberately inserted into dramatic points of standouts like "Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U)" or "Oblivion." Her Visions cuts sound otherworldly, blending New Age and dance music in ways previously uncharted, but in another world, they could be Lady Gaga covers banged out in GarageBand (in which, I believe, Boucher's songs actually incubate). Oh, and she dances like a four-year-old.