Tobacco/The Hood Internet @ Chop Suey, Seattle, WA 03.31.10
There's a difference between a show rocking and a show ROCKING. Last night's Tobacco show at Chop Suey rocked (notice, not in all caps) but never book off into that stratospheric "holy shit, am I even on the same planet right now?" territory that he and his other group (blissed-out space jammers Black Moth Super Rainbow) have proven themselves capable of.
Coming onto a dark stage with no announcement or fanfare, Tobacco (Tom Fec) and his accomplice, The Seven Fields of Aphelion (Maux Boyle) fired up a video projector, plugged in a laptop, strapped on a guitar, and went straight into a full blown assault of dark, swampy, psychedelic hip-hop.
In terms of energy, the stage show is, well, pretty meticulous and not exactly the most sweaty, visceral experience. Whereas Black Moth Super Rainbow is a beast comprised of all live instrumentation, the Tobacco experience is condensed down to two people who both have their hands full with reproducing sounds. You do have to take into consideration that the music itself isn't written to be pop-song perfect, either. It's dense, layered, thick and syrupy, full of fuzz and buzz, random clicks and ticks, blown out kick drums and handclaps, soaring keyboard lines and vocodered vocals.
From a pure listening standpoint, being able to hear Tobacco on a giant sound system and feeling captured by that meandering sonic atmosphere is a mind-blowing experience. To go along with that, there is a constant visual clusterfuck of imagery going on behind the band onstage; Tobacco has a pretty extensive collection of 80's VHS tapes, and has edited them together to go with his tracks to make an intense, hilarious element that sometimes nearly overshadows the musical aspect of the experience. Magic eye tutorials, breakdancers, Care Bears, Phil Collins wrestling the Ultimate Warrior (!?!?), ninja attacks on a golf course, and a particularly disturbing low-budget porn involving a female E.T. on a Southern plantation (I still don't understand it) provided a visual backdrop, and helped take away from some of the "Wait, when are they gonna rock or dance or something?" anticipation.
At its best, Tobacco's live show comes off as a lowbrow-goes-highbrow traveling art project that encompasses all senses at once. At its worst, it feels like watching TV with some friends with an incredible record in the background. Either way, it's by no means a total loss, but adding some other element (and I truly have no idea what, aside from fire-breathers, cage-dancers, a magician, or someone with a Silly String cannon) could really make it a truly unforgettable experience.
In a total (but not completely overwhelming) surprise, it felt like openers The Hood Internet stole the evening's thunder. Part of that probably lends more to Tobacco's music being a bit more contemplative and not necessarily immediately poppy/recognizable/accessible.
The Hood Internet is a bearded, bespectacled guy from Chicago and a laptop (which may or may not be from Chicago), mashing up hip-hop vocal tracks atop indie rock beats. As something to drop in the middle of a party, it's a great idea. Live, it started out as a lukewarm experience ("Oh, cool, this guy is...playing songs. On his laptop. Like I do EVERY DAY AT WORK."), but watching Steve Reidell clown around, dancing and giddily lipsyncing R. Kelly lyrics over the top of Broken Social Scene's backbeat, the crowd got pretty thick around that "no man's land" area right in front of the stage.
Around the third song of the set, it was one of those rare, Haley's Comet-style occurances; People danced. In Seattle. On a TUESDAY. TO AN OPENING BAND. Granted, it was to top 40 radio rap mixed with KEXP-ish backbeats (ie recognizable stuff to everyone involved), but Reidell's pure joy in being there was infectious, and made the crowd drop the typical arms-folded, "too concerned with my beer and texting" pretense and get down.