A great live band is a band who completely makes you forgot that you’ve heard them before, a band that is so good in real life that it makes you see them from a whole new perspective. I’ve experienced this with quite a few bands before, but in this paper I want to focus on those who reshaped their sound with outstanding visuals. After all, isn’t this the whole point of seeing a band live? To give them a chance to show us a little more of their universe? I’m only going to talk about bands (a few amongst many more) that I’ve actually seen live, so feel free to share with us your great experiences. I’ve divided my memories in three categories of visually stunning bands: the ones with a dark, macabre ambiance; the ones who are highly unadvised for epileptics; and the ones who just took their visual experiences further. I would finally like to say that the videos in this article are live footage that I randomly found on youtube, and that I do not own them in any way.
ENTER THE MACABRE
Actions speak louder than words, and in this case, images will speak for those bands more than any words I could ever write. I would previously like to say that in my opinion, a great show is played in complete darkness, and not in the way that you can’t see anyone, but in the way that the only lights you should see are the ones specifically brought by the band itself. I like minimalism because it makes you use your own imagination, and in the case of those bands, what you could imagine is quite terrifying. The Rodeo Idiot Engine, for example, totally changed my view of their last record after seeing them live. They play in the dark with just a couple of red lights on the ground, and sometimes a stroboscope. I have to say, I don’t know why, but the color red is perfectly fitting for their music, it just transforms their sound and makes you feel orgasmically excited but uncomfortable at the same time. They are just outstanding.
The second band in this section will have to be When Icarus Falls, the Swiss post metal band. They also play in the dark, but with a much larger palette of color, which allows them to play on several emotions. However, the very nature of their music added to deep smoke and blue lights is an experience I highly recommend, for it is extremely gloomy. The songs on their own can get you in the mood for the macabre, but amplified with the dark ambiance, it’s really something. I would have loved to talk about bands that bring more stuff on stage, more costumes or really weird stuff (like the stoner band Huata, who play in monk robes) but I haven’t seen enough to properly talk about them.
Stroboscope, yes – the nightmare of epileptics, but also an almost indispensable accessory for live representation. Hexis is one of those bands with a very abrasive sound that needs to be transported in a special way on stage. When you listen to them, your ears can’t really understand what they are experiencing at first, and I think it’s the same thing live. Your eyes can’t adapt to those bright white lights flashing everywhere. That’s a clever way to stay on the aggressive path of music, but that’s also why their show would be difficult to bear over 25 minutes.
Obviously, how can we talk about visually stunning bands without mentioning Celeste. I’ve put them in the epileptics category, but they are so much more than that, and they are, for me, one of the greatest live experiences I’ve ever had. As if complete darkness and stroboscope weren’t enough, each musician has a little red light attached to his forehead. Those who never saw them must think that it’s weird, but it’s so immersive. You find yourself focusing on those little dots in the dark, and you feel like you are being judged by demonic entities; the outstanding music and visceral vocals help a lot, but damn. I’ll probably dream of red dots until the end of my life thanks to them, but everything is not perfect with that. Indeed, if you are playing at an indoor venue you can always shut the lights off (I’ve actually heard that one day they manually broke safety lights while playing in a boat just to be in complete darkness, a real dedication to their art), but if you play during daylight in a festival it becomes pointless. Anyway, if you organize a show for Celeste in broad daylight, you are probably not the brightest man alive.
YOU GOT TO LIVE IT TO UNDERSTAND IT
Amenra is a magnificent band on its own, but good lord are they terrific live. It’s not difficult to explain, but it’s hard to make people feel the way you felt in front of that. Basically they “just” project images on a white sheet behind them, but the images can also be seen on their body, especially on the body of Colin H. Van Eeckhout (the singer) who is almost always shirtless. The rendering is breathtaking. Sometimes he also does the suspension thing, but I’ve never seen it.
The same kind of system is applied by the post-rock band My Education, but with a more cheerful tone and warmer colors. Check them out too, they are great.
I’m going to stay in the post-rock area for the next one, but this is truly a mind-blowing experience. The Birds End plays fairly good music, but it is their live set that just takes you away. They play behind three big pieces of paper hanging from the ceiling – with blue lights all over the place – while an artist is painting all over it. During a half an hour or more, you have somebody painting over the shadows the band members cast on the papers. I was mesmerized when I saw them, but I guess for this one you really have to live it to understand it.
Finally, I will give a special mention to two bands. The first one is Treha Sektori, a one man band in the same spirit of Amenra, but it’s basically just a short film playing behind a guy. The second band is Cult of Luna, because their show is visually impeccable and really an experience to live, but I could never do it justice with words. Probably on the top 5 live bands for sure.
Top Banner photo of AMENRA by Luana Magalhães