Weird Live Review: Matmos
“We’ve played some serious shitholes on this tour,” Matmos‘ M.C. Schmidt said Monday night. “But this is not one of them.”
The man did not fib. The Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery is a gorgeous space with high vaulted ceilings, great acoustics and extremely uncomfortable chairs. Chairs aside, it was the perfect space in which to soak up the many bizarre sounds put forth by M.C. Schmidt and his partner, Drew Daniel, who were there to perform tracks from their latest album, The Marriage of True Minds, as well as a few old favorites.
Matmos put on a much more entertaining show than you might reasonably expect from two dudes hunched over a couple of folding tables festooned with cables, laptops and vintage synths. Aided by members of their opening band, Horse Lords, on guitar, drums and woodwinds, they cranked out a pretty diverse and dense wall of sounds, including some made by objects one doesn’t normally see at a concert, much less one being held at a cemetery. But more on that in a sec.
Horse Lords—like Matmos, a Baltimore band—set the tone with some highly percussive post-rock that was punctuated Andrew Bernstein’s gloriously noisy, looped saxophone riffs. They weren’t quite as unhinged as Baltimore’s last great noise merchants, the late lamented Ponytail, but you can see where they have the potential to seriously fuck up some shit. No surprise Matmos invited them to serve as both opening act and touring band.
When Matmos took the stage, they were a study in contrasts: M.C. Schmidt looked like a tweedy liberal arts professor, while Drew Daniel was decked out in full punk/industrial/leather daddy regalia, wearing a studded leather Merzbow jacket that probably had several Japanoise fans in the audience wiping drool off their chins.
They began the set with “Very Large Green Triangles,” the lead single (if Matmos has singles) off The Marriage of True Minds. In case you haven’t been keeping up with our many Matmos posts, True Minds is the duo’s possibly serious, possibly tongue-in-cheek attempt to create an entire album using extra-sensory perception: They stuck test subjects in an isolation chamber, then tried to transmit the album to them telepathically. Then they recorded the subjects’ descriptions of what they were seeing and hearing in their isolation-chamber mind-movies and built songs around samples of those descriptions. So “Very Large Green Triangles” is based on a test subject talking about, well, seeing very large triangles. With me so far?
To evoke their mind experiments in a live setting, they had Horse Lords guitarist Owen Gardner narrate “Green Triangles” while wearing opaque glasses and giant headphones. I think we got the extended-due-to-technical-difficulties version of the track, because M.C. Schmidt kept fidgeting with the onstage sound board and making “What the fuck?” faces for about five minutes before his keyboard would emit any sound. Sucked for him, I’m sure, but it actually turned the song into an even cooler, more epic jam than it is on record.
They followed that up, fittingly, with their cover of the Buzzcocks’ “E.S.P.”, in which Drew Daniel did a nice job channeling his Merzbow jacket into a throat-shredding lead vocal. Side note: Turns out it’s very hard to head-bang while wearing glasses. Drew kept having to hold his hand over his Warby Parkers to keep them from flying off into the audience, where they no doubt would have been used to barter him out of his Merzbow jacket.
I thought they might play more stuff from True Minds, but instead, they went right into “Lipostudio” from their surgery-sampling 2001 album, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure. To recreate the liposuction sounds from the studio track (“recorded right here in Los Angeles!” M.C. cheerfully noted), M.C. Schmidt blew what appeared to be a duck call and a small flute into a bowl of water. The effect was both cooler and grosser-sounding than you might expect.
Next came the balloons. Oh, the balloons. I’m not sure what album this track was taken from, but it was hilarious and totally magical. If there is such a thing as a balloon maestro, then M.C. Schmidt is surely one.
Did I mention the visuals? Ah, the visuals. These guys know how to keep an electronic music show interesting. Then again, they’ve played with Björk, so you’d expect nothing less.
Matmos finished their set with a song from their 19th-century-folk-inspired album, The Civil War, which was a jaunty way to finish the show. There was whistling and something that I think was an autoharp. Until you hear them string together songs from throughout their six-odd-album career, it’s easy to forgot how insanely diverse Matmos’ catalog is. It could all easily be the work of four or five completely different groups.
Drew and M.C. wrapped things up with one of those encore-but-not-really moments when the band makes like they’re going to leave the stage, but then just mills around for a few minutes before someone finally grabs a mic and asks the usually rhetorical question, “Do you guys wanna hear one more?” (Just to be clear: I love when bands do this. Fuck the encore, stay up there and keep playing, dammit!) In response to Drew’s query, “Lounge or disco?”, the crowd wisely and lustily replied, “Disco!” So we got treated to a little Matmos-style thumpy-thumpy before having to walk back through the cemetery to our cars, which was a nice way to end a memorable evening. It would’ve been more memorable if we could’ve actually danced instead of just rocking back and forth in those uncomfortable chairs, but let’s not get greedy.
P.S. Many thanks to our buddy Phil for supplying the additional photos. And to Gary for the extra ticket. And to everyone who helped score me a seat in the second row. I am telepathically transmitting warm fuzzy feelings to you all.