There was a slight chill in the air on Friday night after what was a very hot day. Perhaps the temperature decline had something to do with Autolux being in town, their music not exactly ideal for situations of sunshine and warmth. Of course the lack of air conditioning and large collection of human bodies made it hot inside anyways, but the overhead fans were working overtime and the darkness still was a great mood-setter. Opening this triple bill was Chicago’s own psychedelic rockers Alla, who put on an energetic and strong set that they’ve become known for. Their songs might get a little long at times, but thanks to some eye-catching drum work and a solid guitar base, nothing ever got too played out or boring. The crowd seemed to like them as well.
One band the crowd had trouble with was This Will Destroy You, a post-rock instrumental band from Texas. Their heavily building yet graceful songs have shades of fellow Texans Explosions in the Sky as well as Mogwai in them, and that’s not a bad thing. And despite the heavier, shoegazey leanings of Autolux, for some reason people weren’t very taken with them. Of course post-rock isn’t exactly the easiest genre of music to love, let alone when it’s instrumental. When people in the crowd were talking amongst themselves and saying things like, “This is boring” and “Thank God this is their last song, though it’ll probably be 10 minutes until they finish it”, you get the feeling that they didn’t fully understand or allow themselves to grasp what was being presented to them on stage. That’s too bad, because This Will Destroy You put on a very captivating set if you enjoy their type of music, and it was a good sonic pairing with Autolux whether the crowd agreed or not.
Speaking specifically about the packed house for Autlux’s set, while your average show features its share of characters in the audience, they tend to be smart enough to be respectful during a headlining set. Sometimes though, whether it’s either alcohol or personality-related, certain people feel the need to insert themselves into the show by being loud and boorish. That includes yelling things at the band between songs, and singing (often off-key) at the top of your lungs to every single song. If you do things like that during a show, it’s fun for only one person unless it’s highly comedic. We all appreciate how much you love the band, but the show isn’t private and there’s a couple hundred others keeping quiet that only want to hear what’s coming out of the speakers. Loudmouth idiots can ruin a show if you let them, and thankfully the ones sabotaging the Autolux show were only bad enough to draw minor attention away from the actual show while still earning this paragraph detesting their actions. The hope is to prevent other, similar things from happening at future shows. If just one person reads this and changes their behavior for the positive while attending a concert, then this paragraph has served its purpose.
But let’s talk about what actually went down on stage during Autolux’s performance. Marching out to a pitch black room, the band started things off the same way so many bands promoting new albums do – by playing the first track from that record. The difference with Autolux is that the opening title track “Transit Transit” isn’t the most energetic or compelling piece of music in their catalogue. It’s not even close, being one of the most subdued songs they’ve ever made. It was nevertheless an artistic way to kick things off, and rolling from that into “Census” got the place electrified with rip-roaring energy that was so lacking in those first two minutes. “Census” is one of the few songs on the new record that holds up well in relation to their incredible debut album “Future Perfect”, and that proved even more true on stage. Eugene and Greg both punished their guitars and fought against amps in an effort to extract as much distortion and general noise out of what was already mayhem. Carla pounded her drums with a fury that rivaled some of the best drummers working today. They took the track for an extended couple minutes and it became one of the most revelatory moments of the entire show.
Following “Census” was the 1-2 combo of “Audience No. 2” and “Subzero Fun”, both of which were serviced properly and continued to add depth to an already strong start. Where things tripped up momentarily was on “Bouncing Wall”, a song that only partly works on “Transit Transit” and does so even less when performed live. Yes, things needed to slow down for a moment, but there were other, better song options to put there. They also could have skipped right into “Turnstyle Blues”, which more than earned its keep, as did “Supertoys” immediately afterwards. On record, “The Science of Imaginary Solutions” is one of the biggest highlights of the new Autolux album. Without the proper moody pieces that come before it along with the subtle nature of the recorded version, some of its charm is lost. Amping everything back up again was a very punk rock version of “Kissproof” that was down and dirty and over almost as fast as you could blink. Unfortunately that’s about how memorable it was too. “Robots in the Garden” was a nice and brief album-solid rendition that deserves credit for the muscle put into it. And though the quieter arrangements tended to suffer during the set, the piano ballad “Spots” somehow managed to slide by without generating any negative attention. And as another one of the great moments on “Transit Transit”, “Highchair” struck with a hurricane-force power that was extremely compelling and ear-damaging (in a good way). Closing the set with “Blanket” was perhaps the smartest choice of the night, as it’s among the best Autolux have to offer. Similar to what they did with “Census”, the band took the song to the next level and started amping up the noise and distortion to the sort of levels where it felt like the melody could break apart at any moment. Eugene slammed his fist on his bass, demanding more from it than it was prepared to give. Greg scraped his strings against the top of his amp just to add more friction. And Carla just kept going and going on the drums like the Energizer Bunny at full power. One by one they stepped away from their instruments, gave a wave, and exited the stage.
Given that they are on tour to promote their new album, it should come as little surprise Autolux’s set was completely dominated by “Transit Transit” material. They played the entire album, except for “Headless Sky”, which was quickly dispatched in the final song of the encore. Prior to that was “an oldie but a goodie” known as “Plantlife”, off the “Future Perfect” record. Both were done in about the fashion you’d expect, similar to the album versions with little to no changes. That was sort of the standard for Autolux the entire show though, which doesn’t mean it was bad, just about what was expected. The goal for any live act is to exceed expectation, which Autolux was able to accomplish a couple of times during their set. There was also plenty to watch, whether it was the impressive lighting work or Carla’s intense drumming, you were never at a loss no matter where you looked. The small things the band could really improve on for the future would have to be their on-stage energy and the way they attack the recorded versions of their songs. When, on songs like “Blanket” they chose to expand on what was already there and “rock out” just a little bit more than usual, it seemed so cathartic and impressive. If only they could capture those moments and multiply them across most of their set, it’d elevate them from a very good live band to an exceptionally great live band. As it stands, Autolux extend themselves just a little beyond most live acts, making them worthwhile to go see but not essential. Let’s hope that as time passes and they have more material to work with, their shows will only continue to improve with time.
Audience No. 2
The Science of Imaginary Solutions
Robots in the Garden