Olivia Neutron-John a.k.a Anna Nasty (Ian Svenonius, Chain and the Gang) mixes performance art with visceral evocative electronic music that “transcends genre and gender altogether.” I was initially struck with how self-aware I was when watching her standing motionless on stage with her arms outstretched as if being crucified by the audience’s collective gaze. She began her set by performing to a prerecorded beat that pulsed throughout the space while she stared out into the audience through the smoke tinted lenses of her riveted industrial styled sunglasses. Her skin was pale and her lips were a deep shade of purple, almost black. As she stood in statuesque fashion she slowly raised her arms revealing her oversized coat whose sleeves hung some 24” from her wrists. In a painfully slow manner she pulled on the zipper of her coat and then in a sudden gesture tore the coat off throwing it behind her. Now donning a black polyester jumpsuit and the most kick ass half zip ankle high vintage boots, Nasty split her attention between her vintage Casio keyboard and her vintage powder blue Hagstrom bass, which she played behind her neck at one point as if to say “fuck you, I’ll play my guitar like Hendrix if I want to”. There was an undeniable sense of power or at least control that was present in the performance. From her emotionally charged vocal delivery to the introduction of her husband Bill Kuehn (Rainer Maria) on stage as her personal human mic stand. It was fascinating to watch as Kuehn stood with his back to the crowd dressed in all black complete with leather jacket and leather gloves, and with arm outstretched, lower the mic to Nasty’s mouth like a her own personal submissive. Opening a show poses its own challenges in and of itself, but Olivia Neutron-John connected with a crowd prepared for something challenging and delivered a stirring and memorable performance. Up next were the genre dodging Palm.
Currently the quartet of Eve Alpert (guitar, vocals), Kasra Kurt (guitar, vocals), Gerasimos Livitsanos (bass), and Hugo Stanley (drums) call Philadelphia home but trace their roots back to Bard College. Palm mixes unconventional time signatures with dueling guitar licks often processed through distortion, delay, and harmonizing pedals. During “Pearly”, Kurt converts his well worn guitar into steel drums with the click of a pedal, conjuring up the sounds of Animal Collective’s “Water Curses”. Drummer Hugo Stanley also adds some samples and electronic beats from his kit mounted Roland. Recently signed to Carpark Records the foursome has been touring in support of their 2017 EP Shadow Expert and upcoming full-length release Rock Island, set for a February 9th release. The band was all business, though Stanley and Livitsanos could occasionally be seen trading smiles, presumably a result of fumbling a note or two while trading incredibly complex sections of a given song. To the audience however, Palm was spot on and in complete control of the bobbing heads and jerking torsos. One moment you’d be caught up in a wave of looping guitars only to wash out on shore to a beautiful pop melody flooding over your somewhat discombobulated but smiling self. Palm is one of those artists that I find captivating on record but transcendent live. Check them out when they come through your neck of the woods.Deerhoof were next and it wasn’t long before the enigmatic Greg Saunier rose from his drum kit to take center stage and address the crowd in a fashion uniquely his own. With a delivery somewhere between comedic geniuses Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg, Saunier had the crowd in stitches from the get go, at least the repeat attendees from their show at the much smaller venue “across the parking lot” the last time they played Connecticut. Saunier was of course debunking the myth that in the years in between their shows they had bolstered their fan base and graduated into the much larger space. To be honest though, it felt like they probably could have filled an even bigger space this time around as the Space Ballroom was at or near capacity.
The Hoofers began their set with “Flower”, a now “classic” from their 2003 Apple O’. Satomi, although not her jovial and spirited self this night, acted out the lyrics with her right arm outstretched to the ceiling as she repeated each verse to the beat of the music, “Flower, Flower, Flower” “Power, Power, Power”. She did performer her signature Satomi style dance moves, which, as best I can describe, combines old school cheerleading with jumping jacks. With the occasional narrative interlude compliments of Saunier the band galloped forward with a smattering of songs both new and old. Following “Flower” was “I Will Spite Survive”, their first single off of Mountain Moves, released in September of last year. From there the setlist was sprawling and at times unexpected. They performed several tracks off of 2014’s La Isla Bonita including “Paradise Girls”, “Exit Only”, and “Last Fad” as well as “Break Up Songs”, “Bad Kids to the Front”, and “We Do Parties” from 2012’s Break Up Song. Rounding out the set were cuts from The Magic and The Runners Four. After a brief time off stage the band were cheered back to play two more, first was the ethereal “Mirror Monster” followed up by the title track from Mountain Moves. Deerhoof continue to be one of the most consistently original bands making music today and what’s even more impressive is they’ve been doing so for the past quarter century both in the studio and on stage.