New York City art rock trio Blonde Redhead is out on tour to promote its latest album effort, Barragán,. Long time veterans of an artistic, occasionally punk inspired aesthetic, Blonde Redhead are no strangers to adaptation. But change can be good! The group’s last five records have all been note worthy in their own light. While female singer Kazu Makino and brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace have constantly evolved their ever changing perspectives over their career, the new album Barragán, invokes the dim, brooding tones and atmosphere of their 2000 album A Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons. Moving forward while simultaneously alluding to their past, Blonde Redhead have thoughtfully crafted an album which seeks to capitalize on the subtle variations largely inspired by the work of the famed minimalist architect Luis Barragán from Guadalajara, Mexico. While no singles stand out as danceable singles as on previous records 23 or Penny Sparkle, the drifting and lovingly crafted melodies effortless intertwine over a haunting atmosphere of clarity and sadness.
Beginning their set with the gentle finger plucked guitar of “Barragán,” Amedeo Pace’s guitar work felt further propelled by the swells of Kazu’s mellotron synthesizer. Segueing into “Lady M,” Blonde Redhead continued the showcase of their new work. Like Sonic Youth, Blonde Redhead sets have always drawn heavily from their most recent album effort and this evening was no exception. The mild, electronic beat of “Dripping”, a lush, dreamy pop effort sung by Amedeo Pace, lost no momentum as the steady beat and buzzing melodies evaporated over the in-the-pocket drums of his brother Simone. The dim lighting of the Rickshaw Theatre stage, consisting of a few crimson overhead floodlights, emphasized the space and shadows. When playing “Love Or Prison,” a lesser track off of Penny Sparkle, Kazu strummed slow notes on a baritone guitar as Amedeo constructed a vivid, swelling synthesized soundscape. Blonde Redhead shared their concert staple “Falling Man,” with Kazu standing towards the drum kit, legs spread, rocking out in a determined trance. Like many integral musical units, the twin sensibilities of two different vocalists and songwriters keep the subject matter far from ever sounding stale. By alternating vocalists, Blonde Redhead maintains an unusually poignant sense of energy. Amadeo’s overdriven dreamscape lead of “Spring By Summer Fall” was all the more beautiful in contrast to Kazu’s fragile vocals on the following song, “Melody” from Certain Damaged Lemons. “Spring By Summer Fall” lacked the effective phasing vocal effect present on the recording but faithfully executed the exceptional shoegaze tune in an unusually analogue atmosphere. “Melody” recalls the broodier side of Blonde Redhead, an aesthetic heavily present on the new record.
Touring veterans of several decades, the members of Blonde Redhead lack no integration as they segued together song after song in almost effortless fashion. Drawing through “Mind To Be Had”, an expansive, meandering track off Barragán, Amedeo’s guitar fluttered and peaked in succulent melodies over a looping, circus like synth track. As the song wound down, Amedeo casually shifted notes, drawing down an ambitious 8 minute track. The shifting into the plucked guitar notes of “No More Honey” felt seamless; a buoyant number experimenting with wonky guitar waves, the song is reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine’s “To Here Knows When.” Closing their set with the foreboding and viscous, anxious energy of “Melody of a Certain Three,” Blonde Redhead are not the sort to deviate from their unique, individual and uncompromising artistic visions.
Returning to the stage for an encore, Kazu made an unusually profound thank you to a member of the crowd, their manager and Vancouver resident Adrienne Butcher, adding, “We wouldn’t have made this album without her.” Blonde Redhead is a treasured favourite among many dedicated music lovers; it is upsetting to consider that a new album and tour almost didn’t come to pass. The unusually sparse and uncompromised attitude of Barragán separates the work from the vast ocean of mediocre contemporary music craft. The latest slab of minimalism continues Blonde Redhead’s winning streak. Meandering through the dim circles of synthesizer before rising into a peak of tweaking guitar melody, “Defeatist Anthem (Harry & I)” bears similarity to Radiohead’s The King Of Limbs. Closing the show, a haunting electric piano line began the otherworldly storm of “23”, commanded by the sweet, hypnotic voice of Kazu: “He was a friend of mine/he was a son of god/ he was a son of a gun”. The glistening sprawl of dissonant guitar, sharp snappy drum lines and vocal succulence showed no signs of falter.
Dynamic, resilient and daring, Blonde Redhead is one of the most intriguing and compelling acts of modern times and the latest effort, the sparse and menacing Barragán is a challenging album with merits that improve upon further listens. After the encore, the brothers Pace bowed to the audience as Kazu Makino stood waving, armed with a beaming smile. May this time not be the last.