BROOKLYN, NY—The very first time I queued up their 2007 LP, Dandelion Gum, Black Moth Super Rainbow infiltrated my head and set up shop, making pastries and selling soma, a tangy, sedated oppression that continued for years and never once made me wonder, “How’s this gonna go down at a show?” I grew up swimming in rock music and, for the most part, stayed there, so when I saw Passion Pit (up yours, haters) halfheartedly noodle on computers, I couldn’t help but feel a bit shammed. Since then, a little hesitation arose about seeing bands that employ both the organic and digital, because—besides the fact that I generally enjoy it—it’s quite a task to reproduce faithfully, and there’s always a possibility that the brain space in which you keep a beloved album gets rattled. That notwithstanding, when word came that Black Moth was touring in support of the recently released Cobra Juicy, I shrugged the big shrug, drove into Brooklyn, and prepared to risk destroying something beautiful.
Surprise of the night: The Stargazer Lilies, also Pennsylvania-based, opening with a lucid and muscular take on shoegazing pop while a projector pumped out a stop-motion nature walk. I only had about three seconds to snort at the hammy visual before their set kicked my ass—John Cep’s alien guitar-barricades, built with distorted sludge over slow and Spartan backbeats, often sounded like two or three loud-as-hell amps raging in dreamy unison, while the frugally-chosen sung notes of bassist Kim Field set up hooks that barely peeked through the mix. A beautiful sounding live balance and judicious songwriting kept me fully invested in a set during which the musicians scarcely moved an inch—a theme that’d resurface as the night progressed.
The Casket Girls didn’t possess me as completely, perhaps for the fact that they decimated about 40 minutes’ worth of inner peace, but they can’t be faulted for doing their thing—they did it well. Theirs is a pet project of Black Moth member Ryan Graveface, and shares some of the same freaked-out synth preoccupations while turning further towards disco and pop. Fronting sisters Elsa and Phaedra Greene posed draped in ribbony white as they sang downtrodden radio choruses, faces masked by oversized sunglasses, the occasional bass guitar slung o’er shoulder. Seductive strutting and girl-group dance moves (think The Shangri-Las) would be the closest to visual spectacle the night would come—time better spent reflexively bobbing in time while lost in thought, rather than holding out for a catharsis of kinetic energy.
A tremendous waft of smoke rose upwards towards my spot on the balcony to mark the start of Black Moth’s set, and before long, I noticed that I couldn’t spot anyone in the room dancing. Not that most weren’t visibly enjoying themselves—it just played out more like an introvert’s rock show than I’d have ever expected. The band remained eerily still throughout, with front-robot Tobacco keeping hunched over his laptop, obscured beneath the brim of a baseball cap; in this manner they plugged through an even choice of songs from across the discography. The material was mostly the upbeat, concert-ready fare, chosen almost as though they thought these kids were gonna move their feet—in any case, things were sounding different with the live drums coming through the PA, granting a rock feel that simply doesn’t register on most of the recordings. Some of the songs actually benefitted from this: “Hairspray Heart” and “Windshield Smasher” pounded anyway, and “Iron Lemonade” was a new beast in this setting, a sinister factory nightmare sandwiched between feel-good acid flashbacks. The Dandelion Gum stuff may have suffered the most, as the drummer tripped a few times on “Sun Lips” and the last song, “Forever Heavy,” was eviscerated of its crucial last-boss synth leads—something you can feasibly chalk up to balancing issues, but that altered the experience nevertheless.
I left the venue debating about the show with some friends who’d been there—as performers, even among electronic artists, it’s true that Black Moth Super Rainbow appear almost moribund on stage, though I have to wonder if it’s a sort of anti-bravado self-consciousness that keeps them frozen in place. If that’s where the buck stops for you, save your cash. I’m of the mind that it doesn’t matter, especially given the mood established by the openers. It’s music, after all. Say it with me: “Whatever.” It’s not as easy to apologize for the auditory issues—songs neutered, memorable bits lost behind booming drums—that, mercifully, were not pervasive throughout, but it’s still a nasty tease when your favorite tunes are missing the money parts. With a re-outfitted live band and their recent album taking a turn towards streamlined, heavier-hitting simplicity, maybe you can chalk that up to growing pains. On the whole, it was the kind of lineup for which you close your eyes and let the daydreams in, and for me, that has yet to get old.