The Empty Bottle, Chicago, 3/8/17
By Leslie Gray
Shows on a Wednesday have to try a little harder.
Knowing one’s at the Empty Bottle brings it up a notch. The 25-year-old divey-quaint venue has a history of reliably great performances and tonight was no exception.
New Canyons opened with the auditory equivalent of watching a laser light show on cough syrup at the planetarium. Layered. Spectral. Trippy. With Adam Stilson’s echoed vocals harmonizing with Andrew Marrah’s swirling guitar, all draped over electronic beats. Listening, you almost drift away, until a crash or a chord, a synth or a string arrests you and brings you back again.
This was a really enjoyable process I might add. Adam’s vocals shimmered sadly, like a low-watt streetlight that perfectly captures the dreamy longing you feel in songs like Everything is Dark and Never Found. Soon, I wasn’t lost though, it was time for act two.
Surachai, AKA Surachai Sutthisasanakul, is a musician/producer with a repertoire that ranges from death metal to dark ambient, with electronic elegies strung out in between.
Tonight his 45-min set was an audio-visual odyssey from the very first blip. There were currents of sound that varied in timbre and tone, frequency and complexity as blip-blip-bleep-blop-bloops pulsed along with the patterns onscreen.
Then Surachai’s synth-based explorations became rougher, harder and louder, turning into industrial clings, clangs and clongs, all coated with a familiar layer of distortion. It was very much "a palate cleanser", as a friend said.
Then suddenly, a woman appeared onscreen, naked with blackened eyes. In the film that followed she finds a red cape and copper neckpiece, walks rocky sands and gazes at rough seas, enacts a ritual and casts her armor to the sea. Titled, Temple of the Weakening Sun, the video and live show combo was a sensory feast that left me satisfied, spent and somewhat emotionally drained. A little water and fresh air, and I was ready for act three.
Josh Eustis may have played solo, but Telefon Tel Aviv was on the stage. The performance was part closure for the artist, whose experiences as Telefon have been triumph and tragedy.
Founded in 1999 by Eustis and the Charles Cooper, Telefon Tel Aviv released their first full-length EP, Fahrenheit Fair Enough, in 2001 to praise from critics and IDM nerds alike. Their next full-length released in 2004, followed by a remix compilation in ’07 and Immolate Yourself in ‘09”. Sadly, Eustis’ founding band mate died that same year. This is the first tour of previously unreleased Telefon songs since his death. “The material was already written. A lot of old stuff, darker stuff,” Josh said.
The set began appropriately low-key with glitch modulations and a muted stage. This soon gave way to audience claps as Eustis played the new-old material, many with hushed the vocals of the artist himself.
In between songs he broke into memories and well-timed asides.
"It's almost poetic. I remember the first time we played here. [at the Empty Bottle] It was 2001 and we got new sound system that melted the subwoofers.”
“I’m only playing one song off Sons of Magdalene”, Josh had told me. True to his word, he played "Crows On The Eaves Of My Father’s House", the sadly beautiful closing track off 2014’s, Move to Pain. This was contrasted by the danceable beats of the ironically titled, “You Are The Worst Thing In The World”.
Finally, he said, “I’m going to play one new one, one old one then I’m out” before electric chords trailed into the night.