Located in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, in what was formerly Union Pacific Railway headquarters, The Depot is a venue that plays home to a wide variety of artists (this season’s spread includes Bret Michaels, Rebelution, and Brandon Flowers). It isn’t your grungy venue located down the street. It’s built to accommodate the higher classes, with four stories of tasteful artwork, high-end furniture, a posh bar, and excellent sound. It’s so classy, in fact, that there is a VIP season pass arrangement that allows one access to the upper balcony for a better view and an escape from the crowds, although this section is typically empty except for the occasional local celebrity (in attendance at Blonde Redhead were Danny Masterson, aka That 70’s Show‘s permanently sunglass-ed Hyde, who moonlights as DJ MomJeans and is part owner of Park City club The Downstairs, and Ty Burrell, aka good-natured dad Phil of ABC’s masterfully written Modern Family, who has a permanent residence in Park City).
The special care taken to keep this venue classy makes it supremely comfortable and not as cutthroat as most venues tend to get. But its classiness can also be off-putting at times, as it draws a different, stuffier crowd. Regardless, the owners of The Depot have created an environment in which music can still be enjoyed intimately without losing any amount of comfort or style.
That being said, Blonde Redhead was a good fit for this particular stage. An act that has been turning out formidably potent psychedelic indie rock for decades could only play at a place this high-end. The older indie crowd, complete with vintage Pavement shirts, thick-rimmed glasses, and conservative (looking) chic leather jackets, showed up to fill the venue, despite there being a Jazz/Lakers game going on literally 500 yards from the venue.
After opener ÃlÃ¶f Arnalds dazzled the audience with her impressive musicianship and quirky personality, the mature crowd began to leave the bar and fill the floor. Maybe it was the 21+ status of the bar that accounted for the widely older audience, but more likely it was the band, who surely shaped many of these individuals around the turn of the millennium. There were a few younger faces peppered throughout the crowd of adoring fans who came to pay tribute to these indie rock pioneers, but the vast majority were nearing 30 and looked a little out of place.
Regardless of age or look, everyone came ready to rock and roll with these premier indie rock and rollers. From the moment the Pace twins and Kazu Makino took the stage, it was two hours of psychedelic riot. Jumping right into things with two tracks off their latest record, Penny Sparkle, “Black Guitar” and the wildly overlooked “Here Sometimes”, the band seemed to make a statement that they have every bit of confidence in their latest work despite it receiving spotty reviews. In fact, as the night progressed, they played eight out of the 10 tracks that make up Penny, and the tracks were surprisingly enthralling. It forced me to go home and re-listen to the album, and it has ultimately changed my opinion of the work as a whole. Funny how live performances do that sometimes.
Part of their success came from an endless amount of talent in their musicianship. Playing the tightest set I’ve seen in some time, Makino fronted the band beautifully, her presence boosted by the use of masks, eccentric dancing, and vocals that matched her studio version vocals note for note, never missing a beat. And the ominous, brooding sounds of Amedeo Pace’s vocals found a fitting home backing up Makino. The entire band, who were joined by an extra, unnamed keyboardist, played with the grace only a seasoned band such as themselves could. Switching from instrument to instrument, the trio kept busy onstage, keeping the energy of the show at full speed. Perfectly timed and placed lights were used to boost the potency of their very unique sound. They ran song through song without a hitch, and the sound was so crisp. It seems almost a miracle this band hasn’t lost any energy over the span of their career. They barely even left time to speak in between songs, maybe stopping for the occasional “Thank you” – something that hip-hop enigma Kanye West may be able to learn something from.
Mixed in with their Penny Sparkle material were their golden oldies, which clearly got the crowd going. Among them were ”Dr. Strangeluv”, “Falling Man”, “S. W.”, “Equus”, and the indie anthem “23”. There was a tangible shift in the crowd upon the opening chords of “23”, with everyone moving to get a little bit closer to the song that still means so much to them. It was a powerful moment as far as live performances go, and one that I doubt many will forget. With Makino straining her vocal chords to hit the high notes of the chorus multiplied by face-melting percussion, it was one of those moments that reminds you exactly why you go to see live bands in the first place.
I don’t care what recent reviews may have you thinking about Blonde Redhead, they’re still legendary musicians who put on one of the better live shows I’ve seen this year. Furthermore, they did so without cutting the material that had been deemed “bad” by the media, which made this night a major triumph both for the band and for those lucky enough to have witnessed it.
Oh, and just across the way the Jazz ended up beating the Lakers 102-96. It was a good night for Salt Lake all around.
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