“Last night I played ‘My Sharona’ for 55 minutes and the audience didn’t care for it, which is weird since they requested it,” Bradford Cox explained to the sold-out crowd at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall on Saturday night. After hammering out a full hour set, the lone, gaunt songwriter swigged at his third (or fourth?) Pacifico, enjoying the balmy rapport with his audience, facetiously adding: “Whatever happens after this is up to me. I punched the clock already.”
After witnessing Cox perform live as Atlas Sound, it’s easy to understand how he develops songs without actually writing its lyrics in advance. He talks with the finesse of a theatre major, he scuttles within his tracks live, and he makes it all look so easy. Amidst thick puffs of smoke, tinged blue, yellow, pink, or red (depending on the moment), Cox skipped over to each instrument (guitar, bass, drums), plopping down one loop after another, with the ease of a Hot Pocket-holding stoner lurching towards the microwave in lofty starvation.
To credit his knack in keeping things unpredictable, Cox not only constructed his catalogue of songs by himself and from memory, but he also reconfigured a majority of them. The latest effort from his Atlas Sound moniker, last year’s Parallax, finds Cox treading water in a sea of shimmery poppy tendencies. Tracks like “Mona Lisa”, “Angel is Broken”, or “Amplifiers” leave the doors unlocked for any listener, marking it as some of Cox’s most accessible work to date.
On stage, each song still retained those elements, but they didn’t always sound like its originals. Cox orchestrated the repetitive liquid-sounding chimes of “Te Amo”, but melted it down midway only to finish it off as a psychedelic aural soup, complete with the manic looping of his harmonica. With “Angel is Broken”, which received by far the most drastic changes, Cox eschewed the song’s ’80s indie college rock for a stripped down affair that was soothing yet remarkably hard-hitting. Towards the end, he started slurping the mic up, which sounded as if he were being sucked into it by a vaccum, an oddity that (for some reason) recalled Dean Stockwell’s gem of a performance in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
Those surprise left hooks bruised well, and they never pulled back. Cox just kept things rolling from one piece to the next, digging rather lightly into his back catalogue. Although the set stuck heavily to Parallax, past Logos favorites “Walkabout” and “Shelia” also received this deconstruction-turned-reconstruction comb over. On the former, the original scatterbrained track underwent a make over that felt far more cinematic, recalling the likes of Jónsi or even Andrew Bird at his best. The latter stuck closer to its guns, though the thunderous layers were far more affronting than on record.
For a performance fully stocked with memorable hallmarks, the real awe-inspiring moment arrived toward its end, when Cox broke into Modern Aquatic Nightsongs. Anyone who’s ever attended college knows how “the guy with the acoustic guitar” has pretty much soiled the fabrics of any lone songwriter trying to pour his heart out. On this track, another Parallax cut, Cox slaughtered his acoustic, bitterly singing into the microphone with this raw definition that actually looked frightening. When he exclaimed, “Cold, cold, cold,” one could almost see little pieces of his soul trickling down.
“I’m very avant-garde, just look at my body,” he later joked in his side-splitting rant*, which prompted the set’s encore of “Terra Incognita” (dedicated to Broadcast’s Trish Keenan) and an ear-splitting 15 minutes of “Attic Lights”. He’s avant-garde alright, but it’s hardly his body doing the work. It’s that brilliant mind of his, which he put on display for two hours. Fortunately for his fans, he worked overtime, and boy did it pay off.
* – Some choice quotes from Bradford Cox:
- “People just wanna hear songs these days. Like it’s a concert.”
- “I’m a complete thug.”
- “I like Mexico. I like it a lot. More than I like the Aragon Ballroom.”
- [burp] “I told you I’m not effeminate. I’m just a duuuuuuude.”
- To the FX guy: “I need it pink. Pussy pink.”
- To a fan, who handed him a marker to sign a poster mid-rant, “This market smells like middle school. Smell it. Get fucked up with me. Let’s get fucked up and listen to The Ramones…in a Volvo.”
- To a nearby fan midway through “Attic Lights”: “Smell my fucking armpit.”
Photography by Michael Roffman.
Angel is Broken
Modern Aquatic Nightsongs