JezebelMusic.com @ Glasslands
December 10, 2009 | Ana Lola Roman, Behavior, Perpetual Mvmt <> Snd
The night at Glasslands was off to a slow start. For a long time, it was impossible to tell whether it had started at all. Perpetual Mvmt <> Snd, a performance group from Philadelphia, toed the line between art and accident in a kinetically monotonous, tepid act. A man played a large clarinet-like instrument that sounded like a car backfiring with a kitten wedged in the exhaust pipe, and was joined by a cellist doing a convincing imitation of fingernails on chalkboard. As one man rustled paper into a microphone, two women made halting movements toward the center of the stage, cruelly teasing the audience into expecting something to happen. Then, as would continue between all movement sequences, a seated non-performer hissed “stop” and the beep of a stopwatch resetting was heard, the girls returning to their seats amid farting noises from the not-quite-clarinet and generically ominous sonic atmospheres emanating from a laptop controlled by another performer.
There was a briefly entertaining zoological moment as one girl started flapping her arms in the birdlike fashion of five-year-old kids playing Pretend and the other prowled the stage like a lioness. The primate camp was represented by the formerly paper-rustling man, who squatted purposefully at various key junctures as if relieving himself.
The paper-rustler repeatedly presented what appeared to be his interpretation of an open mic night—tapping the microphone, clearing his throat, clapping abortively—a non-indictment perhaps even less interesting than his concentrated bouts of mimed shit-taking. Everyone periodically referred to papers under their chair, all business in between spasms of bunny-hopping and ticking noises. One girl turned around and began flapping enthusiastically again, revealing an unintentionally hilarious tramp stamp. End. Naming one’s group Perpetual Mvt <> Snd and displaying as little as possible of either movement or sound may be high concept and ironic, but it makes for a very dull show.
Then Brooklyn’s Ana Lola Roman brought shiny, geometrically-complex dance beats that echoed off the walls around her enticing, otherworldly voice. The opener was a clangy, slinky treat, Roman’s vocals coming in clipped and choppy over the helicopter-like spin of the rhythm. Abandoning her keyboard and computer, she unexpectedly left the stage, pulled a dancer twice her size out of the crowd and performed the song from the dance floor. The choreography was campy and well-done, with Jason, the dancer, appearing to engulf little-girl-sized Roman when they leaned over at improbable angles to match the unhinged robotic beats.
The next song had a sort of polar majesty, keyboard notes dropping like frozen pins around Roman, now back onstage. The bell-like tones of her voice nervously vibrated and hovered somewhere between mythological ice queen and living theremin. The arctic chill of the music carried over into faster songs as well, even as she returned to the dance floor to join Jason again for more kittenish moves, prowling and pouncing along with sharp and clever lyrical barbs.
There was an odd sense of expectation in the air, especially during the slower tracks, as if Roman was halfway into creating a trance state that relied upon a warmth that refused to materialize. Whether her lyrics – far from the vacuous feel-good fodder that one normally associates with electronic dance music, especially the sort involving backup dancers – or some other element created the unease in the audience, there was a prickly gap between performer and watchers. Roman displayed a definite talent for sound and spectacle, but her set, by far the best of the evening, was woefully short.
The last band, Behavior, radiated arrogance from the moment they stepped on stage, calling for a “light-meister” and slumping artfully in angles of studied nonchalance. Their music did not match their confidence; a bland indie stew overpowered by droning keyboard and the narcotized chugging of a rhythm guitar that seemed content to go nowhere.
Behavior’s set looked like a contest of who cared less – the singer, entreating his audience to “feel free to come up on stage and get as close as you want” but barely opening his mouth to let the lyrics out; the gently bobbing guitarist in his unbuttoned shirt, striving for casual but managing only constipated; the distant-eyed drummer; or the slumped-over handheld keyboardist wearing sunglasses and a hat onstage so one couldn’t tell whether he was nodding off or intentionally playing notes—or even if he was playing notes, as the singer had a keyboard as well.
Poor sound balance, unintelligible lyrics, and bland chords made for an unmemorable musical experience, though the windmill and fist-pump (!) of the singer as the effort of pressing a key reverberated throughout his skinny arm at the close of one of the songs raised a few eyebrows. Their “closing jam” was a spacey, generic mess distinguishable only by the audience member the keyboardist dragged up to lie on stage as the guitarist clacked drumsticks together over his head, no doubt inducing a religious rapture of the sort the rest of us can only dream about.
by Helen Buyniski