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Live Review: The Big Pink at the El Rey Theater

Bigpink300  Of all the instruments and sounds in a rock band's arsenal, the most difficult one to use well might be sheer noise. For a band like The Big Pink -- a UK duo that brilliantly grafts the synth textures of Underworld and old rave to druggy, unshowered shoegaze -- the tension between the loveliness of its melodies and its nastier sonic impulses needs a sure pair of studio hands to keep the peace. On the band's debut album "A Brief History of Love," they pull it off gracefully. But at their L.A. debut at the El Rey last night, things got a little overheated.

A four-piece touring concern, Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze's project had plenty of options for making sense of the many ephemeral, textured elements of "History" onstage. But they need a certain fidelity to make it all translate, and for whatever the reason -- the in-house mixer, the band's live arrangements -- clarity just wasn't there at the El Rey. I tried standing in every corner of the room: two feet from the stage, in front of the central mixing board, the very back of the theater, but the mix kept me wondering if this is what an errant seagull last hears before it gets sucked into a passing jet engine.

That's not necessarily a bad thing -- I'm a glutton for punishment when the right situation arises -- but The Big Pink's pleasures aren't in volume and tumult alone. They have a soft touch on their record, and as it turns out, it's what makes the whole thing work.

Furze has a marvelous voice for this band -- a leering disaffection tempered by the occasional real sweetness of his lyrics. But it just couldn't compete with the redlining gain of just about everything else around him. Pairing the low-end gut punch of techno with the mids and highs of a rock band is never easy, but save for all but the quietest moments, Cordell's noise gadgets and samples were just filetted into hisses and grumbles.

Drummer Akiko Matsuura did her able best to give everything a sturdy, urgent footing rhythmically (except for when her kit fell to very apropos rubble at the set's close), and the sheer undeniability of singles like "Dominoes" and "Velvet" cut through the fog and hit at something both brutal and beatific. Some of the most affecting moments came when Furze took the mic alone over ambient smears and sang plainly, a brave move for a band built around the idea of bigness. The Big Pink has absolutely every sonic tool they could ever want at their disposal, and they know how to wrangle beauty from every one. Now, it's just a question of knowing when -- and when not -- to use all of them at once.

--August Brown

Photo credit: Tim Scaccenti

Comments () | Archives (1)

hmmmm, i agree to disagree...a brief history of love on cd is definitely a brighter spot in music today, on the same level as many of the other bands on major indie labels. this is considerable given it is their first released record. my personal opinion on the show is it was fantastic, i mean when i go to a show..ive been to plenty i like to hear something different from whats on the vinyl...and with the mass amount of fog, and the noise level being at 11, i was blown away. its like..yeah they bring the noise..i mean they opened with what...too young to love, the beat thrown out brought so much more to the table than it does on the cd. their ability to mix different styles is what makes them big. i think someone is being a little to critical and nit picking for flaws in what is a great band who just released their first record and performed their first show in north america...im not trying to criticize but i mean take it for what it is, and appreciate it


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