Grouper steals the show in one of LA's most spectacular venues.
Walking in after Less Bells had started, it was hard to find a seat. The few-hundred tickets had sold out quickly. "I didn't know there were this many people in Los Angeles that liked ambient music," said one concertgoer from the pews in front of me. Then again, Kranky has always had a more musical and rock-influenced take on drone. Less Bells, one of the label's newest signings, is a good example, with a melodic slant comparable to artists on the Erased Tapes roster. Armed with strings and a Buchla synthesizer, they had a subtle presence onstage, drawing out the nuance in their compositions.
Brian McBride, a founding member of Stars Of The Lid who now works as a university debate coach, performed a solo piece with an ensemble. You could argue that McBride, along with his longtime musical partner Adam Wiltzie, is largely responsible for creating the kind of DIY modern classical music played by the likes of Less Bells. As such, it seemed appropriate that Julie Carpenter, the brains behind Less Bells, joined McBride onstage. Her childhood violin "exploded" before the performance, so she accompanied on cello instead. McBride's pieces didn't move with the same glacial pace as Stars Of The Lid, but there was a majesty to the way they hung in the air, and the way the instruments blended and mingled with one another.
No one could have prepared the room for Liz Harris, AKA Grouper. Switching between a piano, guitar, synth and other gadgets, she performed her quiet compositions with a command I've never heard before, her voice, subtly looped and layered, echoing out into the church like an entire gospel choir. The incredible setting lent a gravitas to songs that, on record, can sound hushed and hidden. Suddenly, the idea of hosting this concert in a church seemed utterly necessary.
It was a serious, stony-faced night in the grand tradition of Kranky, a famously cagey label. At one point, McBride tried to congratulate the label's founder, Joel Leoschke, on his silver jubilee, refusing to play until Leoschke stepped onstage to say a few words. There was a long, confused silence, until Leoschke ran onstage, hugged McBride and stepped off without saying a word. This prompted a few scattered laughs, more silence and then, finally, some more drone.