Photographs by Maya Setton.
Scanning the dusty surrounds of The Horseshoe Tavern, the range of attendees became apparent. At most gigs, a certain dominant archetype sticks out. Blonde Redhead’s fan base, however, is anything but typical. Credit likely goes to their sprawling discography. Barragan, the band’s 9th release, comes atop a series of albums spanning almost 20 years. Their music evokes a series of compelling moods, calling to a temperament rather than a personality. Their audience, while picking up new converts along the way, has aged alongside them.
Judging by their performance, time passing has meant maturation. There was a practiced synergy to their sound that gave back in waves. The confluence of Kazu Makino’s silken voice floating above dissonant guitar and ambient mellotron melodies felt like an arrangement that would’ve fallen apart under less skilled hands. An array of discordant audio artefacts found their way into a soundscape that not only found space, but embraced them. Sounds didn’t compete, they enhanced one another, lifting the performance into something malleable and organic. The band’s enthusiasm and engagement were apparent in their stage presence. Alternating vocal duties, lead guitarist Amadeo Pace commented “I’m definitely losing my voice.” “It happens to the best of us” replied Kazu. “My turn now.”
The combination of this rich, enveloping sound and varied audience made for an unusual response. Enamoured as they were with the performance, you could’ve confused the crowd’s tepid reaction with disinterest. During most tracks they were still, as if absorbing everything they could. If a sign of approval was necessary however, the rabid cheers following each song gave an expressed two thumbs up. It made for some pretty great heckling. A passionate audience coupled with an extensive discography meant that song requests were hurled continually. After a brief lull in demands, four words sailed through the air: “Play some Blonde Redhead.” The band obliged.
Drawing the gig to a close, the familiar swells of breakout hit 23 drifted through the air. The venue roared. Suddenly the sound cut. Collective cries filled the room. The hubbub grew to a clamour before Kazu took the mic. A stillness lingered. “Are you ready?” She asked before the melody glided back in to an unmistakeable commotion. Beautifully clear, a transcendent marriage of tranquillity and chaos, 23 hit all the right notes. The formerly reserved crowd found the temptation too much to resist. Gauging their response, the track was doubtlessly the best closer possible. With 19 years’ experience behind them, Blonde Redhead haven’t just aged, but appreciated like a fine vintage.