Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Live Review: Adult.@Empty Bottle 5/7/05

A couple of years ago, I bought an Atari 2600 system on eBay. Sure, the graphics were awful, the games were simple and the joysticks didn't work for shit (which led to my original Atari ending up in the garbage), yet I still couldn't resist the nostalgic urge to experience for those archaic blips and bleeps again. At first, having the Atari again was a riot. Hearing the aliens go "chug, chug, chug" in Space Invaders, seeing the unbelievably bad stick-man graphics on "Super Challenge" Baseball and hunting down the black-and-white ghosts on the notoriously awful Atari translation of Pac-Man amused me to no end. My re-infatuation with the 2600 lasted for a couple of weeks, but then inevitably the novelty wore off. A couple of games like Super Breakout and the aforementioned Space Invaders were still fun to pop in occasionally, but overall the simplicity and repetitiveness of the games got old really quick and I soon remembered why the Atari got kicked the curb the first time. When the so-called "electro-clash" movement hit a couple of years back, it was a very similar experience as playing those old Atari games. At first, I loved it...hearing those old drum-machine beats, cheesy synth lines and the robotic, vocoder-tinged vocals; it reminded me of watching the halcyon days of MTV in between games of Pitfall. But alas, there's only so much you can do with the keyboards/drum-machine/vocoder formula and after a while that novelty wore off as well. Fast forward to 2005...Adult., a Detroit-based electro duo who were releasing records way before the whole "electro-clash" trend started, is back and touring in support of their latest effort, D.U.M.E., an EP that marks their Thrill Jockey debut. The band pre-dated electro-clash, but are they going to be able to survive its fall out? Undoubtedly conscious of the electro fall out, Adult. seems to be mixing things up a bit lately. First off, they've put their record label, Ersatz Audio, on hold to focus more on their own musical efforts. (Besides putting out all of their previous releases on this label, they also released numerous records by fellow-minded electro artists like Magas, Tamion 12 inch and GD Luxxe) Second, they've added a third member to the live line-up. Tamion 12 inch now augments the band on guitar, with founders Adam Lee Miller on bass and Nicola Koperus on vocals. Perhaps the standard electro formula was starting to wear thin a bit for the band themselves? Don't worry, Adult. hasn't gone post-rock in honor of their new deal with Thrill Jockey. After seeing their headlining show at The Empty Bottle this weekend, it's quite clear that Adult. is still an "electro" band. Having a third member on stage added a bit more of an organic, live presence to their sound, but the cold drum machine beats still drove the songs along with Nicola's razor-tinged vocals. While I certainly wouldn't say this was a bad performance, I can't say that I was blown away either. It reminded me a lot of the Atari. It was fun, instantly gratifying, full of quirky metallic bleeps...and after 5 minutes I was bored and looking for something else to do. OK, maybe that's a bit harsh. It wasn't like I wanted to leave the club after only two songs, but my interest did fade rather quickly throughout the course of the set. Overall, the formula is just too repetitive...start drum machine beat, riff on the fuzz bass, add a bit of subtle guitar noodling, kick in the screamy vocals and repeat. I can't really fault the band themselves, they do it well and they seem to be enjoying themselves (especially Koperus). It's just that there's only so much they can do with it, just as there was only so much Atari could do with 4-bit graphics and 1978 technology. Then again, despite all of the limitations, there were always those few endlessly addictive titles on the Atari that always brought you back. Adult.'s version of Space Invaders is easily "Pressure Suit," a killer song with an insane bass line and great lyrical hooks. ("Do you like my handbag? It's filled with lots of money!") It's always been a favorite of mine and it clearly was the highlight of the night for everyone in the crowd as well. A close second to "Pressure Suit" was "Human Wreck." (shall we call it their Asteroids??) Probably the best track on their only full-length effort, Anxiety Always, this track also really got the Bottle crowd jumpin up and shakin' their asses. Even though now it mostly collects just dust in my TV cabinet, I still love my Atari and don't have any plans of throwing it in the trash again. I probably feel the same way about Adult. I'll always like them and undoubtedly will always enjoy cranking up their Ersatz Audio 12"s from time to time. It's just that they'll never be a band that's going to be stuck in my CD player for six months at a time.


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