Autolux and The Peels at Northstar

Alisa and I went to see Autolux play at Northstar bar in Philly on June 1st, and it was great. We both like Autolux (Alisa especially so), so we really went just to see them. Unfortunately, because we have early-morning jobs (I have to get up at around 5 AM when commuting to NYC), we didn’t stay for the headlining Ravonettes. But The Peels were new to both of us and they were on first, so we did get at least a little extra rock culture exposure from the night.

The Peels came on first, (an hour after the doors open, which made me want to throttle the person at Northstar who decided to do that) and they were a good, solid, rockin’ show. I admit I’m a bit ambivalent about them. Not because of their music, necessarily. They’re clearly good and they have a catchy, energetic rock set that is very easy to like. The lead singer, who Alisa has dubbed “Hottness Swinging a Microphone”, gave a good performance and straddles the line between not trying too hard and giving it frenetic energy. The Peels will probably get pretty big, and I sincerely hope they don’t flare out in a bright, dazing white-hot flash of money and mediocrity. Right now they’re still hungry and a bit raw, so I’m rooting for their next album to be the one that shows us their maturing talent, and not the limit of their abilities. Also, they’re all very visually unique and attractive personalities, so that aspect to their live shows will go a long way towards making them marketable. Additionally, they’re all freakishly tall, except for the drummer, who makes up for it by looking a little crazy, as drummers often do. Check ’em out, it’s a good show.

Autolux, on the other hand, we knew would be great. And they were. They remind me of art students, to be honest, but in a good way. They clearly like being weird and a bit dark, but in their own way. They aren’t completely original, but they’re startlingly good, and have so much potential. They’re a bit pretentious, but only in that they try very hard to defy expectations and genuinely don’t seem to care if you believe they’re really odd in that particular way. And they also don’t seem to entirely believe it, but have too much fun being obtuse. But none of that really matters, because, as I said, their music kicks so much ass.

Autolux in a casual moment and Carla in the studio, drumming away

The members of Autolux: drummer/vocals, bassist/lead vocals, guitarist/backing vocals. And look, one of them is smiling. How about that?

They brought their own lighting onto the stage, consisting of yellow-orange string lights wrapped around square frames, like barbed wire, and a bare blue bulb on a stand next each frame. Clearly, they understand how to make a space their own and control the audience’s perception of them by shaping the environment. They almost never looked at us, but it seemed to be their level of involvement in their musical art performance piece, more than any disdain towards the audience itself. The drummer seemed to be the most business-like and focused, giving off an air of “I need to do this right, otherwise it’s going to suck and I’ll be pissed.” The guitarist had a huge-ass effects panel that he used in fascinating ways (they use looped samples of their own playing very well), and he was preoccupied with his role in the show. The bassist, who is also the lead vocalist, seemed to be the most friendly of the group, but that’s largely because he broke his aloof character a few times and smiled. Which was nice, because it let us know he appreciated the attention we gave them.

The dynamic between the members immediately formed a funny image in my head of them all arguing about playing Northstar, which is a very small venue, with the drummer arguing that it would be too small but the guitarist and bassist saying “No, no. It’ll be great. Really. We’ll have a great show.” Then, when they got on stage, the tiny venue and the early monitor problems aggravated the drummer who wanted to say “I told you so,” and the they knew it, but no one wanted to say anything. But, like I said, this was just an odd image I got in my head.

Regardless, they were great. They’re clearly extremely technically skilled, and not just as musicians, but as musical technicians who push and pull their instruments to give them all of the sounds and effects they want, creating a sound that’s very powerful and outside of the norm. It’s a great show. They keep control of the looping, distortion, feedback, and other squalls and roars just enough to hold together the overall sound and keep you fascinated. They play the show with an almost casual energy that gives me the impression they’ve been crafting and chiseling it into this perfect performance piece since they recorded the album. Or they’re really bored in a Petshop Boys kind of way. But like I said, Autolux reminds me of art students. They seem to be slowly molding and crafting a singular work comprised of all their songs. This would be in contrast to a group like The Roots, who experiment and change up their music constantly, deviating from their album tracks wildly and consciously, and seem to treat each song discretely. But, unlike their album, Autolux’s set plays like one long blended mix tape, which was very impressive. Their closing song was incredible and was one I hadn’t heard it before (it was instrumental). It blew me away. The crowd actually called out for them to come back on stage for more when they were done, and they weren’t even the headliners. Damn impressive in my book.

It was a good show, and if you haven’t heard The Peels and Autolux, you should give them a listen. Particularly Autolux.