Live review: Metronomy makes the El Rey feel like 'Less Than Zero'
All electronica bands must sooner or later encounter one fundamental problem with playing live sets: They're just no fun to watch. Sure, it takes loads of skill to trigger samples, screw with filter banks and sing convincingly in real time, but from the back of club, it all looks like hitting the spacebar. The new hot-stuff London trio Metronomy, who played last night at the El Rey Theatre, seems especially susceptible to this fact. The band is essentially a bedroom project of super-loyal '80s synth mash notes that beg for montages of whipping your DeLorean over the 101/110 interchange at night while rifling in your glove box for the devil's dandruff. Anything short of direction by Brian De Palma would be a letdown.
Fortunately, the members of Metronomy rely on some time-tested techniques for making you forget that they really need a live drummer. First, the Kraftwerk-style setup and push-button LED jewelry lent a nifty roboticism to the proceedings. Second, choreography! Throughout their very short set (45 minutes tops, which unless you're Bruce Springsteen is usually about right), they locked into some supremely goofy but endearing triumphant poses and little spin-around dances. Unless you have a darn good reason not to, most bands' live shows should involve choreography -- anything less is just lazy.
Third, they can all play the dickens out of their little gadget boxes and guitars, along with some of the most swaggering white-boy basslines I've heard recently and an era-specific, deliciously reverbed-to-death saxophone. The danceland blog world has gone nuts over their singles "Heartbreaker" and "A Thing For Me," which sound a little spare over headphones but got a rousing kick in the pants from live instruments. "Heartbreaker" in particular has "Impending Club Smash" scrawled all over it, as the hook is deadly obvious ("I heard she broke your heart again / That girl's a heartbreaker") and all the better for riding some epic keyboard swells and punk-funk jauntiness worthy of A Certain Ratio.
Britain just does not stop churning out unexpectedly rad bands like this lately, and I suspect they'll be duking it out with Late Of The Pier for the brass ring of that scene in 2009. If the members of Metronomy can figure out the last little pieces of making their live shows pop (and cut down a bit on the instrumentals in their setlist), they'll probably win.
-- August Brown
Photo credit: August Brown