On Thursday night, Los Angeles-based rockers Liars visited the Great American Music Hall to support their new album WIXIW, a menacing electronic record that embraces a sort of desperate beauty within its isolated synths, drawling vocals and minimalist drums. Canadian rapper Cadence Weapon opened the show, fresh off his performance before Japandroids’ sold-out show at the Independent in May.
Originally booked at The Fillmore and moved to the GAMH — perhaps due to low ticket sales — the crowd was slow to fill the venue. By the time Cadence Weapon went on at 8:46pm (30 minutes past their posted start time), there was significantly less of an audience than when he opened for Japandroids. The charismatic rapper was unaffected, launching into a 40-minute tirade of lightning fast rap verses, diverse beats, and a touching “rap-ballad”.
Crowd pleaser “88” samples fellow Canadian electro-pop artist Grimes’ song “Eight” and features Rollie Pemberton rapping at breakneck speed, while “Hope in Dirty City” — the title track from Cadence Weapon’s newest LP — is a slow burning old-school hip-hop number, punctuated by Pemberton’s screaming pleas to a lost lover (“And I know you found someone new / I just can’t get over you”). Peppered with some silly dance moves and jokes, the crowd warmed to Cadence Weapon’s enthusiastic rap about halfway through the set, converted by the man’s dedication to writing songs that make his, at times, odd cadences into his best weapon, disarming a skeptical crowd of experimental rock fans.
There was little, if any, skepticism once Liars took the stage around 10pm. Armed with racks of keyboards and synthesizers, the trio started into WIXIW album-opener “The Exact Colour of Doubt,” a shimmering, atmospheric track that closely recalls Kid A closer “Motion Picture Soundtrack.” Lulled by the gentle wave of synths, the crowd awakened when Liars turned to their back-catalogue and launched into the tribal “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack.” Interspersed with Animal Collective-style primal screams and a pounding tom drum attack, one audience member lost control and threw his body into a girl next to me, knocking her over into the drunken, wet, and sloppy pseudo-mosh pit which formed below the band.
On the record, WIXIW is relatively subdued. That doesn’t hold true live as Liars worked hard to add throbbing bass and a sense of unease to the performance. The title track was especially enjoyable, with an urgency in lead singer Angus Andrew’s voice and the synth lines that kept the crowd moving. “Brats” created a similar vibe with buzz saw synths and a 4/4 dance beat beneath Andrew’s falsetto cries.
When the band turned to “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” from 2009’s Sisterworld, the crowd went ballistic, the mosh pit slamming into the edges of the crowd as Andrew screamed about killing homeless people (“Stand them in the street with a gun / and then kill ‘em all”). It is kind of terrifying watching Andrew, who stands about 6’4” tall with shoulder length hair and a dark moustache, bent over in a business suit screaming murderous rants while guitarist Aaron Hemphill calmly rips the lurching distortion out of his guitar.
But pushing the envelope of rock music to embrace fringe sub-genres has always been one of Liars’ biggest appeals. As a singer, Andrew is nimble in his ability to switch from a drawling, deep moan to a Thom Yorke-styled falsetto, with a bit of screaming in between. Hemphill plays guitar and synth with a style that showcases his vast knowledge of punk/metal, IDM, and jazz.
For their encore, Liars closed the show with maybe the most aggressively epic track in their discography, the blistering “Plaster Casts of Everything,” which shifts in the last minute from a falsetto punk track stretched near its breaking point to a contorted guitar riff smothered with delay and reverb. That riff is the viking call of Liars’ songwriting — thundering, unapologetic, and unforgettable.