Live: The Rapture at the Music Box
“They’re so dorky,” a young woman was overheard saying early in the Rapture’s set at the Music Box Thursday. She wasn’t incorrect: frontman Luke Jenner often clutched his red Telecaster tight and high like a security blanket, his distinctively tremulous vibrato wails radiating unease. The seeming awkwardness actually played in the band’s favor –- belying the group’s combustible dynamic interplay and demonstrating the distinctly human element that The Rapture bring to dance music, the latter ultimately providing the crux that took their performance into the realm of sweaty communion.
The Rapture are experiencing something of an artistic rebirth, and this show reflected that. The New York group proved one of the most influential of the early 2000s, spawning a post-punk revival that reverberates to this day. The Rapture’s urgent early single “House of Jealous Lovers” proved the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” of dance rock, hotwiring house and techno’s hypnotic electronic production with nostalgia for the jagged guitars of '80s beat deconstructionists like Gang of Four and Liquid Liquid. Bands spanning Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand to Foster The People would take The Rapture’s irresistible template all the way to the bank.
But where The Rapture started as a revolution, they ended up as a proficient party band, eclipsed in the relevance sweepstakes by former DFA labelmates/mentors LCD Soundsystem; they also experienced personnel shakeups, losing bassist/co-frontman Mattie Safer and even breaking up temporarily. Despite such setbacks, The Rapture’s current album "In The Grace of Your Love" proved a bracing return to both the DFA fold and to form – as immediate as their breakthrough, but with a mature spiritual bent that imbued unexpected richness.
That new direction ultimately pushed their Music Box set toward the sublime. The Rapture set the righteous tone, opening with the passionate title track of their latest record: right away, the four-piece played as a fearsome unit, Jenner’s chicken-scratch strums merging viscerally with multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Andruzzi’s pulsing keyboard lines and the taut rhythm section of drummer Vito Roccoforte and able new bassist Harris Klahr (ex of D.C. punk-funkers Q and Not U).
Roccoforte’s steady but polyrhythmic thump and Jenner’s quivering, questioning howl suggested early Talking Heads’ akimbo minimalism: As the song climaxed with Jenner’s voice unadorned except for delay, it evoked the self-conscious yearning of Jonathan Richman.
The band moved artfully through the material like a DJ set, ratcheting up intensity gradually over 13 songs culled nearly equally from all the band's albums. Jenner’s vocals became rhythmic tattoos, hypnotic in their repetition; “Get Myself Into It” throbbed with dubby, dark New York energy, and “The Devil” fused heavy guitar skronk, disco hi-hats, and Santana-esque solos. “Never Die Again” introduced the show’s real star, though -– Andruzzi’s insistent cowbell, seconded only by his sexy sax-man moves, which he pioneered well before they were a YouTube meme.
It was, however, the trilogy of “House of Jealous Lovers,” “Echoes,” and “Olio” -– all from the Rapture’s 2003 debut Echoes -– that ignited the crowd into a heaving mob; during “Olio,” Jenner even stage dived, singing most of the song while boogieing on the floor alongside audience members screaming every lyric cathartically in unison. It was a kinetic, physical release, topped only by the encore of “How Deep Is Your Love” and “Sail Away” from the new album, forcefully returning the Rapture’s new spiritual aspect to the primal groove.
“This next song is about sailing away into awesomeness,” Jenner exclaimed, introducing “Sail Away,” and the crowd accordingly rode his wave into the rhythm of the night. With that final salvo, the nerds didn’t get revenge, but found transcendence.
-- Matt Diehl
Photo: Luke Jenner of the the Rapture performs last month at the Berlin Festival 2011. Credit: EPA / Britta Pedersen.