blonde redhead [2009]

The Independent
San Francisco, CA
14 July 2009

Blonde Redhead = sex.

Having only ever listened to their recordings before Tuesday night, I was apparently the only person unaware of this fact. Sure, their music certainly slithers and slides, beckoning you just a little further beyond the curtain. Sure, Kazu Makino’s airy voice is the aural equivalent of honey dripping onto flesh, but I was not prepared for what I experienced three nights ago at The Independent.

People talk about chemistry between band members. People talk about the sexual tension that drives performers. People should take notice of Kazu Makino and the Pace twins, Simone and Amedeo. From the moment they began their first song of the night, their energy was clear. Rather, less clear than murky, sensual and captivating. (Whether or not Makino and Simone are, or ever were married, as has been suggested, seems almost irrelevant.)

Blonde Redhead are three incredibly attractive, confident musicians producing dark, often-brooding mid-tempo music more suited for a candle-lit subterranean Parisian club than a loud boxy venue on Divisadero. It’s driving, electronically multi-layered and moody. Put as simply (but respectfully) as possible, it’s guitar-driven Portishead.

Solidifying this connection further, Makino and Beth Gibbon’s voices share many characteristics: both are dark, magical and inviting, but Makino’s seems to float just a little higher and lighter than Gibbon’s. It’s the difference between the voice of a fallen fairy and a world-weary sorceress.

As I stood in the sold-out Independent, in my allotted 3 inch by 3 inch space, I couldn’t help but think that it would be much more appropriate to be reclining on some intricately designed, red velvet covered, dark wood settee. Sure, quite a few of their songs inspire smooth, gliding movement that would be more easily facilitated while standing, but everybody needs a nice, comfy home base.

My only complaints on the night focused on the band’s significant reliance on pre-recorded bass tracks and backup vocals. Instead of exploring live harmonies between Makino and Simone (also strangely absent from their recordings), Makino often harmonized with her own voice. The effect of these prerecordings was unfortunately often distracting, and detracted from the very live energy the three created. Perhaps this energy they generate does not allow for additional supporting musicians, but a live bass player would have been nice.

Makino and the brothers Pace did very little talking on this particular night, but it was fairly clear that between-song banter was neither expected nor needed. After all, more often than not, talking just seems to get in the way.