Earlier this month, Liars released sixth album “WIXIW,” a sonic leap into the world of atmospheric electronics with a pointed emphasis on texture and mood. It’s the group’s strongest release since 2006’s experimental “Drum’s Not Dead” and it continues the band’s habit of reinventing itself musically with each record. “WIXIW” is a beautiful, delicately-constructed set of compositions that draws inspiration from a host of pioneering electronic efforts, notably those of Aphex Twin, Manuel Gottsching, and most overtly Radiohead.
The newfound sonic parallels with Radiohead should come as no surprise, seeing as the two groups toured extensively together in 2008. The “In Rainbows” tour was a huge commercial opportunity for Liars, bringing the band’s abstract musical style to a new and considerably larger fan base. But judging from the somewhat sparse and disinterested crowd at Friday evening’s performance, the band’s uncompromising musical style still serves as a barrier to entry for potential fans.
The strongest portion of the set was the opening triumvirate of “The Exact Colour Of Doubt,” “Octagon” and “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack.” “Colour” opened the show much as it opens “WIXIW”– with a luscious bed of synthesizer drones. However, in the live setting, the drones and sparse percussion beats became oppressive and menacing, as Angus Andrew’s contorted his voice into a series of atmospheric chants. “Octagon” followed, adding a room-rattling blast of sub bass to the song’s skittish foundation of chopped beats and arpeggiated synthesizer.
For a group without traditional song-structures or anything approaching a hit single, “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack” from “Drum’s Not Dead” is about as close as they get to a truly memorable slice of songwriting. In the live-setting it did not disappoint, simultaneously invigorating and overwhelming the audience with a nearly out of control beat and jagged snatches of electric guitar. The searing drum work by both Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross contrasted beautifully with the stark atmospherics of the opening tracks.
From then on it was a wild and wildly-uneven ride. Blistering songs from the band’s prior output were jammed against the pristine architecture of the new record as the overall volume increased to ear-splitting levels. Gross’ guitar playing was treble-heavy and noticeably confrontational, channeling Arto Lindsay by utilizing the highest of frequencies to aurally attack concertgoers.
As the set descended into pure sonic bedlam, Liars threw the audience a bone by playing the lengthy, but rewarding “No. 1 Against The Rush,” an electronic blend of krautrock rhythms and trance-like synthesizer that unfolded into a beautiful set of rhythmic keyboard patterns. But that was the last gasp of coherence as Liars rocketed into its back catalogue of pseudo-punk, semi-nonsensical musical ravings with reckless abandon. The band’s energy was to be applauded, but far too often the performance ceased to make sense on any terms.