By: Jeff Terich
Liars :: 02.21.08 :: Casbah :: San Diego, CA
When it comes to Los Angeles (by way of Berlin) trio Liars, unpredictability is par for the course; be it a shift in musical styles or a new town to call home. Unfortunately, that air of uncertainty spilled over into full-blown doubt after frontman Angus Andrew injured his back in January. Determined to put his personal comfort aside for the sake of bringing the group's twisted, tribal art-rock to audiences across America, Andrew made a trip to the chiropractor and soldiered on with some sturdy barstools. During Liars' show at Casbah, no seat could contain Andrew's intensity, as he and his bandmates Julian Gross (drums) and Aaron Hemphill (guitar, percussion, keyboards) tore through a set that was at times hypnotic, frequently fierce and consistently invigorating.
With a bold, ever-morphing sound ranging from Jesus And Mary Chain-style noise rock to freak-folk a la Animal Collective and even a bit of vicious biker metal, Liars' performance defied any stylistic logic. Each incongruous sound was packed tightly into their 80-minute set, which drew heavily from the trio's fourth, uncharacteristically straightforward self-titled album and its predecessor, the contrastingly abstract and tribal sounding Drum's Not Dead.
Even when confined to his four-legged purgatory, the inhumanly tall Andrew commanded the stage, emanating a ferocity that few singers with perfectly healthy backs are able to muster. During songs like three-chord stomper "Clear Island," the trip-hop on steroids single Houseclouds" and Psychocandy homage "Freak Out," Andrew kept an energetic yet cool composure from his perch, though his baritone and fearsome gaze were enough to set the crowd writhing and shaking as the rest of the band rocked upright and mobile.
It wasn't until Liars launched into the Drum's Not Dead material, notably the abstract and frightening "Drum And the Uncomfortable Can," that Andrew threw caution to the wind, leapt off his seat, shot upright and assumed Night of the Living Dead position, walking with eyes wide and arms extended forward, zombie-style, looming spookily high above the crowd. This soon erupted into a rain dance of sorts during the frantic percussion of "To Hold You, Drum," though Andrew did find a moment of meditative respite, reaching his elongated arms to touch the ceiling, yoga-style, during the ambient wash of "Be Quiet, Mt. Heart Attack!"
After a particularly noisy reading of "Plaster Casts of Everything," which would have otherwise been a perfect exit point for the band, Andrew addressed the audience, "Theoretically, this would be the time when we would leave the stage, go backstage and hang out for a few minutes," he said. "Theoretically."
Clearly, an encore (or "the French, L'Encore," as Andrew put it) was not part of the agenda that evening, for there was no walk-off, just a handful of the group's most amazing songs to close out the show. A rare moment of graceful, melodic beauty came when Liars performed "The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack," easily their prettiest song, and all the more stunning in a live setting. That grace was shattered, however, as they transitioned into the vicious, abstract drone-pop of "Let's Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack," which brought the festivities to an end with the most unholy of guitar effects, the most unexpectedly rocking song and Andrew at his most animated.
The fact that Liars didn't cancel their tour way back in January was surprising enough, but to see Angus Andrew flailing about maniacally after adjusting to a month of physical limitations proved to be an even greater shock. It's difficult to gauge what to expect at any given Liars show, but even when handed the obstacle of faulty vertebrae, they delivered one motherfucker of a performance.
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