Arts, The Muse

Blonde on Blonde

On Monday, Blonde Redhead played at the Paradise in support of their new album Penny Sparkle, which filtered the band’s dreamy atmospherics through a more subdued take on the lush instrumentation that has characterized their last few albums.

For most of the set, the band played this hushed sound to their advantage, juxtaposing their eeriest new songs with a stage setup of blacklights, orange lightbulbs flickering like candles, and singer Kazu Makino wearing a white mask with long whiskers. The band opened and closed with this setup, starting off with the slow burn of “Black Guitar,” sung by both Makino and Amedeo Pace over a dark, downtempo beat, highlighting Makino’s airy, angelic tone.

For the next cut, accessible single “Here Sometimes,” the band was bathed in white light, and the simple synth sequence and danceable percussion from other Pace brother Simone gave the song much more energy than on record, though Makino started to sound bored for the last chorus. “Dr. Strangeluv,” from previous record 23, was a highlight, as Makino’s breezy melodies permeated Pace’s light, then driving guitar work.

“Spring and by Summer Fall” found both Makino and Pace on guitar, a complete switch from “Here Sometimes,” and Pace sang with much more urgency, while “Oslo” juxtaposed drippy-pipe synth with echoed vocals to create a spooky, cavelike atmosphere, mirrored in the lighting.

“In Particular,” from Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, was another highlight, with its gentle but steady rhythm and bright, catchy chord progression, over which Makino’s effortless vocals became higher and louder as she improvised. The song had a sort of motorik feel, as if pushing itself along without losing momentum.

“SW” felt almost like a classic rock tune in comparison, with heavy piano chords and prominent lead guitar, though a complicated chord progression in the bridge and a solid solo outro from Pace set it apart. “Spain,” one of the more developed songs from Penny Sparkle, had a much better sense of dynamic, as each verse hit harder than the last. Makino’s skyward melody paired with the line “I don’t mean to flatter to you” felt hopeful, but still unsure, soaring to some unknown height and giving the whole song that vacillating quality.

After a song with such development, “Will There Be Stars” was a bit of a letdown, as Pace’s vocals were uniformly pretty flat and the song crescendoed without changing much, but “Not Getting There” got the audience moving again with propulsive drums and Makino’s charismatic performance. “Falling Man” moved from trippy intro to abrasive riffing while still being danceable, and Pace experimented with the vocal melody to contrast the descending keyboard line.

“23” was another high energy cut, and Makino took the opportunity to use the whole stage for her gyrations, as well to whip her hair back and forth when not singing. The song thumped and so filled the venue that her vocals were barely coherent &- only a breathy melody was left, but it’s one of the band’s best.

For the encore, the band played the refreshing “My Plants Are Dead,” which featured a hazy, but less shadowy, synth sound, and “Melody of Certain Three,” though not quite as powerful as it needed to be, was a nice change of pace to a dual guitar attack. However, Pace made the melody much less interesting as he continued, as if tired of using his full range. The band closed with “Penny Sparkle,” using the same spooky lighting as at the beginning, and Makino crouched around stage and crooned while the band floated through the song.

Blonde Redhead are constantly reinventing themselves, and while the sultry new album is strong for what it is, their new hushed attitude toward their own sound seems to bleed into some of the other songs. Their live show would benefit from more energy, maybe some reinvention of those new songs themselves, but they’re masters at what they do – they can find a way to juxtapose energetic and raucous tracks with the dreamy, creepy atmosphere of their new material while keeping the moods of both intact. For now, their slower stuff seems to be dragging them down a bit.

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