The L.A. via Brooklyn trio started with "The Exact Colour of Doubt," the lead track off this year’s WIXIW (pronounced “wish you”), singer Angus Andrew crooning over Aaron Hemphill’s hypnotic, heartbeat bassline. This was followed by the more upbeat and cryptic sounding "Octagon." It took about five or so songs before the crowd really got into it, a pit forming during pulsating "Scarecrow on a Killer Slant," Andrew dropping his croon for his more confrontational sing/speak “Why’d you shoot the man with a gun? / Cause he bothered you.” Between the slower, atmospheric tracks and more upbeat, villainous ones, Liars still maintain a unique sound, heavy on percussion and noise, but not entirely without melody and introspection, as on "Who Is the Hunter."
Liars’ albums generally take on one concept (witch trials, a relationship between Drum and Mount Heart Attack, etc.) so it’s interesting to see how they all mesh in the live show. "Hold Hands and it Will Happen Anyway" from 2004’s critically-panned They Were Wrong, So We Drowned is a noisy-experimentation meets disturbing nursery rhyme: “Choke, choke, the devil will evoke / Thirst, thirst, suffer til you burst.” And then the kraut-rockish "No. 1 Against the Rush" (first single from WIXIW) came in, Andrew affecting a deadpan over a driving bass. The group encored with "Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack" and "Plaster Casts of Everything," lead track off 2007’s eponymous album. Overall, the set was haunting, erratic, and simultaneously ethereal. Over a decade and six albums later, Liars still know how to put on a good show.
And while seeing a live show really turned me on to Liars, I can’t say the same for Portland, OR trio Unknown Mortal Orchestra. It was a set marred by guitar solos and a bored looking bassist, but a pretty damn good drummer (credit where it’s due). At best they reminded me of a lo-fi Destroyer dragged through a psychedelic filter; at worst it was hookless wankery drenched in too much reverb. Ok, "FFunny FFriends" is a little catchy, but there just wasn’t anything too attractive about the set overall.
Joan of Arc opened up the show, or rather Tim Kinsella and a guitar did. Shifting between complex chord and lead arrangements with what he calls simpler songs (he compared the pleasure of writing a simple song to shopping in a Whole Foods and giving in to the voice in your head that says “treat yourself”), Kinsella dropped some old ones, some new ones, and even an Elvis Presley cover. His vocal yelps and cracks may not be for everyone, and he did slip up a couple times, but it’s always a pleasure to catch Tim warm up a crowd.