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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Last Night: The Horrors and the Kills at the Fillmore

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2009 at 7:54 AM

The Horrors
  • The Horrors
The Horrors, the Kills
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The Fillmore
Better than:
Seeing the Psychedelic Furs in 2009.

Walking into the Fillmore before either the Horrors or the Kills had set up on stage, two things were clear about the crowd: they were young, and they were very enthusiastic. You were clued in on both accounts by the two- to three-person deep line of bodies framing the stage, fans staking out their places close to their heroes long before any rock stars stood before the hard-working fog machines.

For all that effort, the kids got a 50/50 return on their investment: one band whose sound was muddled and whose singer looked so awkward it seemed either a case of severe boredom or severe stage fright had set in, and another that had all the right moves choreographed against unimaginative music. If only you could've put each act's strengths into one big ol' superband, you'd have really had a show worth leaving the house early for.

The Horrors were the first to take the stage. They're touring on their makeover album, Primary Colours, which shows the band moving on from aping the Cramps to aping artists more fitting for their gloomy glam style: Jesus and Mary Chain, The Psychedelic Furs, Joy Division, and, well, you can fill in the rest of the hip stylistic references in this day and age. They're far from  uncommon. But that being said, The Horrors have taken a step closer toward meeting the hype that greeted the London act the minute it showed itself to the world.

As a recording, Primary Colours is a thick tangle of heavy shoegazer noise and romantic post-punk. It's a positive move forward. Live, the group seemed lost in a stasis between those worlds. They lacked the zeal required for membership in the goth drama club, but their unfettered noise wasn't as artfully sculpted as their predecessors.

There's much My Bloody Valentine worship in the bent notes and elongated synth drones on the record, and from the stage the Horrors ratcheted up the volume until the extraneous noise was an aggressive force. But they didn't balance that well with the beautifully stylized keyboard trails. The sound when they played came out murky, in walls of noise that never behaved like you'd hoped they would, with various instruments alternately buried in the mix or needling your eardrums.

As the night wore on, there were certain songs--"Sea Within a Sea" amongst the best--that could've developed live into something really transcendent, were it not for all the sound issues. But that was only half the problem. The other half was Faris Badwan, the Horrors frontman. When you could hear him, he sounded strikingly out of tune, but a lot of the time his words were hidden under much reverb. He also looked like he didn't know what to do with himself on stage, awkwardly playing with a light (which he stuffed under his shirt for a minute) or standing there geekily next to his strutting guitarist, looking like he was either totally bored or too stoned to put out much effort.

In contrast to the Horrors, the Kills were on fire. Which was a shock, as that duo has repeatedly gone down in my book as an insufferable act due to their preference for acting cool above all else. Last night, though, Allison Mosshart acted like a caged wild animal, pacing the stage nonstop, twisting her hair, jumping on the monitors, humping the air, and giving her fans the sort of assertive performance that pushed her just a little closer to Karen O. category (minus O's general creativity). Mosshart and her cohort, guitarist/singer Jamie Hince vamped up the sexual side of their songs. They sang facing one another. Hince held his guitar between his legs and stroked it. They did everything short of strip down to their skivvies to help sell the music, becoming a man and woman on the prowl while they played.

But as impressive as their stage presence was, the music still wasn't there. Without a full band, their bombastic sound still looks a little karaoke-ish, and one bluesy, sexy alt rock song blends into the next pretty quickly. Everything sounds really slick, overproduced, and uninspired. Even the Kills' covers (Patsy Cline's "Crazy" was fitting for the persona Mosshart employs from the stage) barely transcended the monotony.

One of the most interesting parts of the evening came during the encore, when the Kills and the Horrors became one. After much gushing from the Kills that last night signaled the impending closing of their tour, the two groups gave a doomy rendition of "Baby Please Don't Go," with Mosshart in a sports coat cut with silver sparkles and Hince in a military cap.

For this finale, Mosshart really vamped it up, even climbing on Horrors guitarist Von Grimm's shoulders. He played while she sang from her perch, but when he suddenly bucked her off, she took a pretty serious looking spill off his shoulders. It was  the smack heard 'round the music hall, and everyone around me winced. She hit so hard, in fact, I was surprised to see her continue to sing--but she did, with little grin on her face.

But even with her big accident, Mosshart still stole the show, dwarfing Badwan's vocals on their cover and giving everyone a real show visually. In the end, though, it's the Horrors who have the most potential of the two bands: they still have room to tweak the live thing, the sound, and the styles they employ, while the Kills drill the same ol' thing into the ground.

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Ian S. Port

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