January 6, 2006
This double bill by Baltimore-based trio Celebration and Brooklyn-based foursome the Double promised a lot and thankfully, delivered. Although, frankly, I wasn’t sure anything could top seeing the Double play a blistering, frenzied, and focused set on a sweltering summer night on a cramped and crowded sunken ship moored in New York harbor, but this show came tantalizingly close.
The pairing offered a study in contrasts between two bands with certain aesthetic sensibilities and influences in common, but a marked divergence in their use of tone and texture. Not that this is a bad thing —far from it. Too often I go to shows and all the bands on the bill have a certain monochromatic style palette in common. In which case: next stop=Dullsville.
Celebration’s Katrina Ford is a powerhouse. Before the start of their set she wandered aimlessly through the thin crowd, nervously alighting on stage. Then drummer David Bergander and multi-instrumentalist Sean Antanaitis (who’s also Ford’s husband and collaborator with her in previous bands Jaks, Lovelife, and Birdland) launched into the first song and —bam!— Ford sprang to life, howling and cooing and shrieking into the mike, a whirling dervish of boundless energy and restless movement.
In fact, the whole band is about frenetic energy. Largely thanks to Antanaitis’ organ fills and fevered guitar, Celebration’s overall sound is loose-limbed, rollicking, and eerily carnival-esque. (Imagine Fourwaycross chopped up Tzara-style with “From Her To Eternity” and Coil’s “Ubu Noir.”) With the addition of Ford’s sensuous, rich vocals, it becomes irrepressibly sexy, sensual, playful. It’s deceptively simple, this music, but the seemingly inexhaustible energy of the players and vibrancy of their playing gives the music a full-bodied, irresistible pull. This is one group that makes the most of its minimal means, creating something lush and heady that never once lets up in intensity.
Setting one’s textural focus so narrowly can get a little samey after awhile. Thankfully the band’s short set was well-calibrated to build in intensity, culminating in “War,” an anti-Bush paean that ended the set with a real sense of emotional (not to mention percussive) catharsis.
Although Ford vented some serious spleen in “War,” the music itself swung and swaggered with sexy insistence, sounding subversively kicky and freewheeling, like a long-lost post-punk Busby Berkeley number. As Ford’s howls grew increasingly fervent (“got more guns than any-bod-yyyy!”), she punctuated the ramped-up, almost feverishly sped-up finale of the song with some aggressive percussion of her own (in addition to Bergander’s dogged backbeat). (The tambourine ain’t just for the Archies anymore.)
After the bold, brassy strut of Celebration’s raucous set, the Double came off as introverts in comparison—detailed, exacting, their music reflective and downtempo. But that’s not the whole story. While they are a very detail-oriented band, expert at layering sounds and playing them off one another (they utilize negative space as expertly as the positive), they’re hardly dour. They’re wry romanticists, too post-modern (post-post-modern?) to buy into all that letters-and-sodas bullshit, making music that —while hardly dryly ironic— is subtly wary. An Escher-esque sense of imbalance and foreboding informs songs like “Standing on a Levee” and “Firecrackers in Sawdust”; the near-constant sense of disorientation underscored by ringing keyboard trills and distortion skittering back and forth. Their influences may be hard to pin down —echoes of dub here, some Jean-Jacques Perrey synth-cheese there, some Joy Division (more “Decades” than “Love Will Tear Us Apart”), Eno, United States of America and of course the Smiths— but with music so texturally variegated such trainspottery is almost beside the point.
Live, much of this textural detail was lost by necessity. The band seemed a little sloppy and even a bit muted compared to when I saw them over the summer. Tour fatigue? Possibly. But they gained momentum and surety as their set built towards songs off their recent Loose in the Air —the jittery, melancholy “Hot Air” crackled with longing and languor, while the echo-laden, feedback-drenched “Up All Night” brought us all back to the dance floor.