Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Legendary Pink Dots at Petit Campus (POP)

The Legendary Pink Dots  |  POP 2013

                 PHOTOS  |  ALEXANDRIA BEATON

One of the best ways to gauge what to expect at any music show is to take a long hard look at the crowd. Most of the time, the public fits the act on stage, at least in some capacity.

For instance, I will always remember stepping into S.A.T. for a Metronomy show, a few years back. As I made my way through the hordes of fans, I was stunned to discover that nearly all of them were young adults with tight jeans, canvas shoes, big glasses, and ample checkered shirts. “A hipster wet dream,” I would later call this moment. The scenario was similar when I entered Corona Theatre for Dead Kennedys’ show earlier this year. Predictably enough, the place was packed with people in their mid-thirties, dressed in ripped jeans and shiny studs, and bearing utterly colourful hair. “Punks in uniforms,” a friend of mine calls them.

Point made: a gander at the audience often reveals what kind of music is likely to be played. Thus, when I set foot inside Petit Campus on September 25th, I am compelled to conduct my usual fan base research. Having no idea what the Legendary Pink Dots’ music sounds like, I embrace the process. It’s always more fun to analyse the fans of a band that you’ve never heard before. In that context, instead of using your ‘audience scan’ to confirm certain preconceptions, you draw actual conclusions that might very well be proven wrong. You’re legitimately investigating, sort of.

So, beer in hand, I am very eager when I start contemplating the numerous folks crowding the front stage area.

It’s a pretty sight.

There are young hipsters, old hippies, bearded geeks, and bald bums. There are beer-belly-bearing dads and lean gray-haired aunts, sharply attired youngsters and fuzzy-looking elders. Every colour, every hairstyle, every age group seems to have a representative in this gorgeous melting pot. This crowd is a market researcher’s worst nightmare.

What to expect is hard to pinpoint, I tell myself in that very moment. That would be because The Legendary Pink Dots have been around for over three decades – enough time to gather quite a community of loyal fans – and because they make the kind of music that appeals to a very niche segment of music fans: the psychedelia heads.

I say ‘psychedelia’ and nothing else, because adding even one more word would contribute to make the definition too narrow to be representative of this band’s stuff. Just to give you an idea of the range of aesthetics these experienced musicians have been exploring over the years, consider the trouble that Mr and Ms Wikipedia have when the time comes to label the Pink Dots’ sound: avant-garde rock, experimental, neo-psychedelia, ambient, post-punk, industrial, noise, synthpop, industrial rock, noise rock.

I’m still wondering what the hell I’ve signed up for when the three men take the stage, in a burst of warm applauses. They are visibly emotional about being back in town, as are most of the die-hard fans filling the place (of which there are many, judging by the reactions). Without delay, they begin playing.

The Pink Dots approach the concept of the power trio in an innovative way. The instruments are original, and so is the interaction between them.

The guitarist, who is standing at the back of the stage, wrapped in purple and green smoke, oscillates between meticulous finger picking and mean-ass punk-style riffs. Most of the time, he handles the melodic part of the pieces. In psychedelic music, that part is often (and often purposefully) overlooked, which makes the pieces sound like a series of noises, or like some sort of soundscape. Not in the Pink Dots’ case. Rather, the trio chooses to blend melody and soundscape, which renders their oeuvre very complex, not to mention far more accessible than their melodyless counterparts.

As for the keyboard player, he is standing behind synths and gadgets. He spends the entire show twisting knobs and carefully dropping his fingers on keys, a process that gives birth to droning notes and elevating noises, as well as carefully placed glitches. He looks like a reefer-smoking history teacher, with his little glasses dropping low on his nose, his tiny gray ponytail, and his trippy-patterned short-sleeves dressed shirt.

The frontman, Edward Ka-Spel, is quite the character. He handles vocals and sometimes has a go at the keys. He makes a point of enunciating every syllable of the band’s spooky lyrics, with great intensity. Sometimes he sings softly, sometimes he yells. There are even certain parts that sound like slam poetry. 

Together, the Pink Dots take their audience on an audio journey, one that showcases the band’s devotion to psychedelism. In very trippy pieces, they zigzag between heavy rock and floating ambient, without forgetting to spice things up with carefully crafted and well-chosen noises of all kinds.

The whole time, the visual part of the show is very compelling. Throughout the set, the lights form kaleidoscopic spirals around the three men’s heads, in thick clouds of flashing colours. At times, the guitarist at the back of the stage disappears in the UFOesque smoke. The vibe is very cinematic.

The show goes by in a flash. When I step out of Petit Campus, I am, at once, weirded out and impressed. Such strange music, such a diverse crowd. You've got to love psychedelia’s potential for unearthly experiences. What a peculiar, yet thoroughly enjoyable show. 

Well done POP.

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