It was Oscar night, but the real show was in Brooklyn, as Bradford Cox & co. bowled over the crowd with a set both atmospheric and down-to-earth. Deerhunter singer/guitarist Cox already delivered something much more than a mere ‘side-project’ as Atlas Sound, when he released Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel (QRO review), an album personal, yet otherworldly. But with the support of his touring band, on Sunday, February 24th at Music Hall in Williamsburg (QRO venue review), Cox was able to not only reach those heights but also engage the crowd like you wouldn’t believe.
Despite his ‘frontman’ status for the (currently on hiatus) Deerhunter (QRO live review), one would suspect Cox would be an introverted musician. Let the Blind contains many tracks that cover isolation and loneliness, and the whole album has the feel of something done locked away in a bedroom. Cox has lived all his life with Marfan’s Syndrome, a hereditary condition which gives him an extremely gaunt appearance – it’s very easy to imagine him making the record all on his own, if not living that way since childhood (another subject that comes up frequently on Let the Blind).
But however he made the record as Atlas Sound, live, Cox is unabashedly jovial and winning, joking not only with the crowd, but also with his entire touring ensemble. He and guitarist Adam Forkner (of main opener White Rainbow) had an infectious camaraderie, Cox calling him “Sgt. (and sometimes Pvt.) Forkner”, and Forkner replying in the yell of a mock-cadet. Cox castigated Forkner for using too much wa-wa, “turn down that funk machine!” – then apologizing for messing with him “doing his thing.” Cox even introduced the entire band during the improvised “Theme From Atlas Sound” instrumental jam.
With the crowd, Cox opened the evening joking about the Oscars, telling them he already knew who’d won (“I got the e-mail”); while he was right about Daniel-Day Lewis, his pick of There Will Be Blood for Best Picture and “that Juno chick, she won something” were a little off. There was a running joke about ‘leather & wood’, always said in low tones, like a Barry White impersonator. But the best had to be his call on Forkner to use his guitar on “Scraping Past” to “take [the audience] to the field”:
You’re about to be put on a field of reverb – not the kind of reverb that would make you think of leather & wood… But a reverb that reminds you of glass. And when you are on this field, you will remember your childhood, you will remember walking into a field and discovering your older brother smoking pot and fingering his girlfriend. [peals of laughter] His girlfriend will look over her shoulder at you, and mouth the words, ‘F…U…C…K… O…F…F…” [even more laughter] You will be embarrassed and run away, hoping she does not tell your brother what you’ve seen. But, unfortunately, she will, and when you are taking a bath, later this evening, your brother – will drown you… [laughter and applause]
This isn’t to say that Atlas Sound didn’t deliver with their music, in the field or no. Opener “Cold As Ice” washed over the crowd, but it warmed them up on the cold, cold night. “Recent Bedroom” haunted the Music Hall. Cox was catchy and winning with “Ativan”. “Winter Vacation” brought a snowfall of sound inside.
Atlas Sound playing “Winter Vacation” live at Music Hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY:
But even with the music, Cox & friends joked as well. Mid-set, they delved into a cover snippet medley of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear (The Reaper)” (though it could have used more cowbell), The Grateful Dead’s “Operator” (winning the award for ‘band you’d least expect to cover The Dead’), and The Breeders’ “Cannonball”. Before “River Card”, Cox bantered with the crowd about stories he wasn’t going to tell – “the story about puking on my friends tits? No, I wasn’t going to tell that one. I wasn’t planning on it. That was a special thing I did for Philadelphia, but that was because it was a bad show.”
Atlas Sound playing “River Card” live (and Bradford Cox joking beforehand) at Music Hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY:
But the piste de résistance had to be the encore return. After Forkner, sounding “like Larry the Cable Guy”, egged the crowd into shouting for Cox’s return, the whole group returned shirtless – including drummer Stephanie Macksey and bassist Honey Owens (of first opener, Valet), and Owens wasn’t wearing even wearing a bra (“when you’re pushing forty, you just gotta let it all hang out” – she did then tie her shirt’s arms around her neck, covering herself by wearing it like an apron). Yes, you got to see Cox’s ultra-skinny torso, but he was anything but ashamed, crashing guitars with Forkner and wailing on an unfamiliar new number, going so far as to get on his knees at the front of the stage and play to the light of a fan’s encore flame. Not the show you’d expect, not a show you’d forget…