The story goes that in the early '80s fans turned their backs on superlative Birmingham, England-based pop band Electric Light Orchestra after feeling betrayed because much of the E.L.O.'s live show was produced by pre-recorded tapes. Or at least we think that's how it goes. Fast forward a quarter century or so. We recently read somewhere that indie rock stalwarts Blonde Redhead were using lots of backing tracks on their current tour. When we saw the band headlining a bill over English upstarts Fields (coincidentally also hailing in part from Birmingham) Wednesday night we felt it was only necessary to see three songs of what was too close to Blonde Redhead karaoke before looking for the door. We do enjoy the band's latest set 23, but we didn't feel like seeing the music performed as it appeared the trio intended to was going to inspire us much. And, of course, "LOST" was about to come on...
Fortunately for us, it was Fields that we were primarily interested in. The band formed only last year, were the subject of an allegedly heated bidding war among certain labels, and ultimately signed to Warner. This was the quintet's first North American tour, and to hear the band tell it (and play it), their performances in New York and Boston were plagued by sound problems. We can certainly attest to the problems Wednesday at Boston's Paradise Rock Club. More problematic than Þórunn Antonía's keyboard's rising and falling through the mix in the first few songs was the fact that lead guitarist Jamie Putnam's amplifier flat-out died. Eventually charismatic fronter Nick Peill requested a DI box, and by the middle of Fields' too-short set the band had rebounded, but it was hard not to feel like the band had missed an opportunity to win some new fans.
From our preferred Paradise perch in the balcony we observed an audience standing still as the band struggled to hit a groove. Finally, once Mr. Putnam's sound issues were addressed, there was discernible movement among the potential converts. As Fields began a woman asked us who the opening act was. This was a bit surprising to us, not because we expected there to be a lot of Fields fans in Boston, but because we expected there might be *some*. After all, the show was sold out, and, well, we just find it hard to believe that Blonde Redhead is selling out the Paradise on a Wednesday. Sure, their catalog is impressive. But we don't think many of the fans at the show that night were familiar with highlights of the band's catalog such as "Jetstar" or the incredible 1995 album La Mia Vita Violenta. Anyway, kudos to the trio, because clearly the club was packed because of them.
Time was Blonde Redhead rocked like rock was going out of style. We saw the band two or three times when they were supporting La Mia Vita Violenta and the shows were spine-tingling, with twins Simone and Amedeo Pace and bassist Maki Takahashi (who has long since left the band) laying down hypnotic grooves and jagged guitar lines while singer as guitarist Kazu Makino dropped jaws with electrifying vocal performances. We felt no tingle Wednesday, although the rest of the audience gazed on enrapt.
Anyway, back to Fields. The (surprisingly diminutive, save for Mr. Putnam) band tried to open strong with its two biggest numbers. "If You Fail, We All Fail" from the new records impressively sequed into the older cut "Brittlesticks," but the band's sound issues took much of the sonic wind from its figurative sails initially. However, once the problems were sorted the band caught fire, leading up to a paint-peeling version of "Song For The Fields." Perhaps the band rocked so hard because they felt they had to overcome earlier setbacks, but we'll take it. After streaming Fields' debut full length Everything Last Winter (stream below), and after watching the band's video for "If You Fail, We All Fail," we became concerned that the band had lost a lot of the darkness and grit that was present on their excellent 7 From The Village EP (reviewed here) in favor of sonic gloss and sharp dress. Our fears were put to rest as the band stormed to the conclusion of its program. Fields has a week's worth of dates remaining on its visit to the continent, and we've posted the balance of them at the bottom of this item. In the meantime, check out an MP3 of "If You Fail..." and a full stream of the band's debut below. We took a handful of very bad photos of Fields' performance -- check them out here.
Fields -- "If You Fail, We All Fail" -- Everything Last Winter
[right click and save as; stream selections from the record at Rhapsody here]
Fields: InterWeb | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr
Blonde Redhead: Interweb | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr
05.12 -- Club Soda -- Montreal, Quebec
05.14 -- Drake Underground -- Toronto, Ontario
05.15 -- Lager House -- Detroit, Michigan
05.16 -- Empty Bottle -- Chicago, Illinois
05.18 -- Union Hall -- Brooklyn, New York
05.19 -- Mercury Lounge -- New York City, New York