British music press darlings The Horrors played the Paradise Wednesday night in a lead-up to their double-weekend slot at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. New York’s Small Black opened.
Although Small Black presumably borrow inspiration for their name from the influential Steve Albini noise-rock project, the group bears about as little resemblance as possible to Big Black’s pummeling nastiness. In its stead is a dual keyboard, drums and bass lineup with a moody take on the sunny, reverb-y vibes of chillwave. The core duo of Josh Kolenik and Ryan Heyner spent most of the set bent over their keyboards and samplers, bobbing their heads in lockstep with drummer Jeff Curtin and their own electronic pulses. Complex, melodic bass lines from Juan Pieczanski stood out in the mix. Minimal blue house lighting established an atmosphere that the band went to lengths to maintain. They were just a little too down-tempo to be dance-y, but not so much so that they sounded too dull for a live performance setting. Small Black were an enjoyable enough opener, presenting a less sundrenched variation on one of indie electronica’s current trends.
In the interim between sets, whoever happened to be in control of the Paradise’s house music began playing The Velvet Underground’s 1968 exercise in avant-garde chaos White Light/White Heat in its entirety. The Horrors would take the stage about fifteen minutes into the madness of closing track ‘Sister Ray,’ and rapidly segue us into something much more calculated. The juxtaposition was especially striking considering The Horrors’ origins as a noisy, gothic garage-punk band. The transition from that style into the post-punk and shoegaze hybridizing of the band’s current sound has been a mostly welcome shift. Still, the group shined in moments where that reckless punk attitude came back to haunt them.
Predictably, the setlist stuck entirely to songs from 2009’s Primary Colours and last year’s Skying. Opening number ‘Changing the Rain’ felt slightly rote, and it took the band a few songs to really hit their stride. Skying single ‘I Can See Through You’ fared better, and a mid-set one-two punch of ‘Endless Blue’ and ‘Sea Within a Sea’ was properly impressive. Longer songs like ‘Sea Within a Sea’ were undoubtedly the highlights of the night. The driving, motorik rhythm section of drummer Joe Spurgeon and bassist Rhys Webb gave off a distinctly krautrock feel at times, and the extended lengths gave guitarist Joshua Hayward opportunities for violently expressive solos.
Prior to the show, I overheard fans discussing the apparently reclusive nature of vocalist Faris Badwan. If he indeed does try to avoid the public eye off stage, it certainly doesn’t show during the band’s performances. He spent the set confidently strutting about the stage, and occasionally wielding his mic stand like a weapon. During the extended instrumental workouts, he would do his part in contributing to the wall of sound by pointing his microphone directly at Hayward’s amp. Vocally, Badwan is somewhere between the baritone anti-singing of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis and the detachedness of Interpol’s Paul Banks. It suits the music perfectly.
The set ended just over an hour after it started, two-song encore included. The crowd also couldn’t have eclipsed half of the Paradise’s nine hundred person capacity. The atmosphere was that of an oddly minor show for a band who’s headlining a Coachella stage for two weekends. Still, it was a solid performance with moments of brilliance. A worthwhile venture on a Wednesday night.