I'm a freelance writer who likes writing about cultural things (am a big film buff, bibliophile, and muso, who's obsessed with old films stars , Julie Delpy, Alfred Hitchcock, Coen Brothers, Kat...[more]
Scala, Thursday 19 July 2012
The night started off with support from Electralane's Verity Susman who set an odd tone (which will, of course, later be carried on by Mr Cox) by inexplicably wearing a fake moustache. The songs themselves were on the right side of experimental, ambient jam sessions (Susman being also an accomplished saxophonist) and darkly witty with vocal samples saying things like "I'm going to put my finger inside of you, is that alright?"
When Bradford Cox, aka Atlas Sound, arrives he opens with a heartfelt a cappella cover of an American folk song made famous by Roscoe Holcomb, standing on his chair, lost to the song. A fairly unusual way to start this packed and sold-out gig, playing to a very hipsterish indie crowd, but then Cox has famously never really worried about what other people think of his music choices.
When Cox gets down to his songs proper, after almost immediately breaking a string and noting his ability to change strings fast, he is entrancing. And I can't help but think of him as some kind of cosmic cowboy with his straw hat, Ricky Nelson/Hank Williamsish voice, and his layers of ambient sound which complement his acoustic guitar.
The hypnotic, otherworldly, crescendoing sound he creates using various effects, loop pedals and delay/reverb on his vocals, as well as percussive sounds on the guitar and rhythmic breathing, is indeed a wonder to hear. This is especially true on songs like 'Te Amo', 'Terra Incognita', 'Parallex' and 'Flagstaff' off most recent album Parallex, whose intricate beauty and poignancy really resonate live. Hearing the latest songs live also confirms just how many instant classics he has created, especially with extremely catchy, sing-along songs like 'Mona Lisa'. While older songs from Logos like Sheilia and Walkabout also get the crowd going.
It is also his intensity which strikes and enthrals you. He has said before that "it all means something" when he sings, like "throwing up" experiences (this guy really has seen some disturbing things if his infamous interview about the origins of 'Flagstaff' and seeing people dying by decapitation etc are to be taken literally). His voice, so pure and heartbreaking, is full of naked yearning and desperation, as well as, at times, aggression and frustration. You get the sense that he is unleashing his inner demons and achieving some kind of catharsis onstage. It is partly this which really differentiates him from all the other indie wannabes, as it differentiated artists like Amy Winehouse.
There are also endearing mistakes, like when sound effects are brought off at the wrong moments (maybe attributable to the bad jet lag he complains he's suffering from at the beginning )and moments of sometimes awkward stage banter. HOwever, the latter can be entertaining, such as when he comically exploits his lonely child/country hick persona and talks about his pet racoon, called Saxophone, which his mum didn't want him to have (which segues into an improvised song about Saxophone that doesn't quite work), or when he talks about only having 'ending songs' when the crowd shout out requests. Other times though he talks a little too much and some of the crowd gets fidgety, asking him to play a song (Cox: "What a novel idea, like the theatre or a photoplay.").
Cox is a restless soul and likes to entertain himself by this banter as well as by twiddling with effects and improvising music. It all makes for a gig which is full of surprises but also some moments which are not as interesting as others and rather too abstract. But ultimately the Atlas Sound show is a worthwhile experience. If you can stick through to the end, it rewards with its beautiful intensity.