Ratatat at First Avenue, 9/11/10
September 11, 2010
First Avenue, Minneapolis
REVIEW BY CECILE CLOUTIER
The Brooklyn instrumental duo Ratatat mix up rock, hip-hop, dub and electronica with cool abandon, and in retrospect it shouldn't have been a huge surprise that their live show was somewhere between a punk gig and a video installation. But not being prepared made it a really captivating experience.
I should have been prepared for the crowd, too. All those hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits aren't chicken feed, ya know, so the show was sold out. But, there's First Avenue when it's sold out, like, say, for a Lucinda Williams gig or the Current birthday party, and first Avenue when it's sold out and crazy. Arms and legs flying crazy. Not Korn-with-the-chicken-wire-cage-on-the-dance-floor-crazy, but wild cheers for a harpsichord sample crazy.
Being modest guys and not big talkers (the evening's stage announcements could fit in a tweet) and there being no words with the music, something had to fill the void. Because, at Ratatat's core they like entertaining as much as David Lee Roth. Since they're visually oriented, the stage is set up with criss-crossing lighting rigs, a smoke machine, a good old-fashioned green stage laser, and a large screen playing their hit YouTube vids ("Shempi's" remixed Abba clips are even more distressing when Agneta's nose is the size of that bucket of Red Bulls in the First Avenue lobby). Laced with plenty of found video, it turned the scene into, as my friend noted, something like "Pink Floyd, 1973." Two scrims set on both sides of the stage had images back projected on them - a diamond necklace twisting in the breeze, a spiral of smoke, spinning marble statues.
Lest this sound as self-involved as Floyd back in the day, those images were as dryly funny as they are lovely and disturbing (those rotating flowers made of eyes and mouths, as the kids say, FTW?). When songs moved toward the baroquely melodic, a Beethoven bust showed up onscreen, and a pair of string players clad in Mozart era garb and wraparound sunglasses popped up when there was a string sample. And of course, every time the iconic big-cat roar came up on "Wildcat" a big picture of the angry kitty on the cover of their Classics album popped up onscreen.
As if they needed prompting. Even with their often bubbling dancefloor grooves, punched up by Evan Mast's burbling bass and Mike Stroud's ornate, fiery guitar solos (and surprisingly charming headbanging), Ratatat are pretty heady, so it was surprising to be dodging dancing bodies like at those early '80s New Wave shows. The vibe wasn't angry or aggressive, just wild and fun. Although I did nearly hit the floor a couple of times when a clutch of overly enthusiastic dancers moved into my personal orbit when "Wildcat" led into the unstoppable, bubbling "Neckbrace" and its tweaked, burbling wordless vocal hook.
To recap: Ratatat tak the smart approach of casting themselves as the club DJ in their own personal dance party. They arrange things, provide the good music, but the crowd is as big a part of the show as the music or the visuals. And it delivered.
Critic's Bias: I am a huge fan of rock instrumental music. Construction on the shrine to Pell Mell in my home is going well.
The Crowd: Clutches of college-age dudes and grinding couples along fist-pumping and shouting along with every chord change. More than a few white guys with dreadlocks were on the scene; one great Afro bobbed above the crowd packed in front of the stage.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Fuck 'Too Much Love!' Play some more!"
Random Notebook Dump: It's pretty freaky to see the stage looking over at the First Ave video monitors - the screens aren't visible, so it looks like two 20-foot budgies are flanking the stage.
For more photos: See our complete slideshow by Steve Cohen.
I think...their instrumental for Memphis Bleek's Alright off their remix album