Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012
Fox Theater, Oakland
Better than: Practicing your manners.
Alexis Taylor could very well be a high school history teacher. In his loose, pleated khakis, plain white button-up, pale blazer, and those huge, dorky eyeglasses, the turtlesque singer of Hot Chip appears more like the sort of person who'd lecture on the Magna Carta than front a dance-rock band. And the same could be said of at least half of his bandmates.
So Hot Chip is not an outfit that strives to be "cool" -- even if, judging by the sold out crowd last night at Oakland's Fox Theater, it is. On its new album, In Our Heads, this British outfit sings about racy, controversial topics like the pleasures of monogamy and family life. In interviews, the members profess to being -- gasp! -- generally content. And the band's once-quirky blend of electro-disco and lovelorn pop has matured into a place of danceable semi-seriousness, where any fun is generally good and clean, and the prevailing tone is earnest optimism.
From whence, then, came the excitement that kept a party-seeking crowd on its feet through last night's 85-minute show? Lyrical themes be damned (or, more likely, overlooked) -- it was all in the rhythm. Once set opener "Shake a Fist" hit its climax, the band only rarely let the boom of the kick drum and the twinkle of the hi-hat wane. Next up, "And I Was a Boy From School" throbbed along unrecognizably until the chorus, at which point the crowd figured it out and started losing themselves the way people do to songs they know. The party was on. We got a run through many of Hot Chip's best tunes: new album standout "Don't Deny Your Heart," a loud and caffeinated "One Life Stand," and new single "Flutes" followed by well-worn floor-filler "Over and Over," which earned the biggest applause of the night from the crowd.
Many of these sounded quite different from their recorded versions, although some of the sonic variations were likely due to poor mixing and/or the Fox's oft-criticized P.A. system. (Other additions, like Taylor's electric guitar licks on "Over and Over," the occasional percussion solo, and the higher-energy treatments of songs like "One Life Stand, were obviously intentional.)
Onstage, the members of Hot Chip struck a mostly reserved poise, in keeping with their attire. Taylor untethered himself from his stack of keyboards for just a few songs, shuffling around the stage in a manner that suggested he may be less familiar with the realm of the dancefloor than one would guess from his music. (Other members, like multi-instrumentalist Al Doyle, were more showy, moving around between instruments during songs and playing them with a bit more rockstar gusto.) The group was gracious, but said little to the crowd between songs, moving through them briskly and confidently. The band's pummeling light show, filled with bright strobes and colored spotlights trained at the crowd's eye level, often made a stronger visual impression than the musicians themselves did.