Liars have toured with No Age and Interpol, among other rock bands. But for last night’s performance at Webster Hall — a kickoff show for the band’s U.S. tour — the trio tapped experimental synth-wizard Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin) to open. WIXIW, Liars’ sixth LP, finds the band trading in guitars for jittery electronic soundscapes. (“I hated the idea of being related to blues,” frontman Angus Andrews remarked of 2010’s Sisterworld.) Hovering motionless over a DJ table, coaxing ghost-worn soundscapes from a pool of sampled synths and looped voices, Daniel Lopatin seemed a fitting icon for Liars’ newfound aesthetic. Coincidence?
Doubtful. When Liars took to the stage and launched immediately into the soft ambient hum of “The Exact Colour of Doubt”, you could mistake it for the lingering echoes of Lopatin’s set. The track offered a hushed, enveloping welcome to the world of WIXIW — a quieter, more measured place than Sisterworld’s barren L.A. or They Were Wrong’s witch-infested Brocken. “I’ll always be your friend,” Andrews sang over distant synth pads and pattering drum samples, greasy black hair veiling his eyes. “I’ll never let you down.” On his left, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Hemphill stood hunched over a different arsenal of synthesizers. Behind him, drummer Julian Gross tapped out cautious, scattered snare hits on an electronic set.
From there, the trio lurched abruptly into the pitter-patter programming of “Octagon”—low, mumbled moans from Andrews, eerie keyboard lines from Hemphill — which seemingly hinted that they might continue with WIXIW in sequence. Instead, Andrews let out a ferocious, familiar howl and picked up a guitar for the first time during the set. His bandmates began pounding out “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack” on two sets of tom-toms; the crowd roared accordingly: it was the first foray into Liars’ familiar spastic weirdness. From there, the band buried deep into their new material: the slippery, haunted “WIXIW” (Andrews spun in circles, hands high, during the synth rush), followed by the cluttered, rhythmless “Ill Valley Prodigies”.
That punkish energy reemerged throughout the set — surf-rock-in-hell anthem “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” sounded particularly evil, matched only by “Plaster Casts of Everything” — but never during the WIXIW selections. This is smart, measured art-pop. Like Oneohtrix Point Never, Liars have fashioned texture into an ends unto itself. They have purged all that is “related to blues.”
Yet at Webster, the band compensated for WIXIW’s lush electronica by interjecting with the most piercing cuts from all five previous records. WIXIW isn’t just about texture (though Aphex Twin, Kid A, and Homogenic are all credible reference points). It’s a model of restraint, a mood piece of its own. During the encore, Andrews snarled through an especially vicious cut of “Broken Witch”. A crowd-member leapt onto the stage, joining in Andrew’s frantic gyrations. (“He, he, he is the boy!” Andrews pointed at the intruder.) A decade ago, critics labeled the band “dance-punk,” the hyphen denoting some unholy genre fusion. Now, the “dance” and “punk” genes seem oddly uncoiled.
Photography by Harley Brown.