We should all give London synth-pop stalwarts Hot Chip a lot more credit for their consistency.
Roseland Theater, Portland, OR
(Photo: Stuart Fullerton)
We should all give London synth-pop stalwarts Hot Chip a lot more credit for their consistency. Since the release of their now-classic The Warning, the band have returned every couple years with a new, excellent record, with minor tweaks to their formula, but otherwise they’ve done little else besides strengthen their core. The release of a new Hot Chip album is always cause for celebration, and not just because they’ve yet to make a dud. This year’s A Bath Full of Ecstasy is excellent, which is even sweeter after a four-year gap between Ecstasy and 2015’s Why Make Sense?, their longest break yet – and it means the band has an excuse to hit the road again.
This tour is an incredible double-whammy, with Torontoan four-piece Holy Fuck opening the show. They’ve changed a lot since I first had my brain exploded by their self-titled debut EP – the octopus-like drums on the opening track, “Tone Bank Jungle,” inspired me to want to learn to play drums (though I never did) – but at their core they’re still the mathy, noisy electronica band I fell in love with. On paper, a tour with both bands seems like an unlikely pairing, but listening to “Luxe,” their song with Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip released earlier in the week, it feels like a match made in heaven.
I’ve never seen the band perform, but watching them create noise like that live is exhilarating not just because they’re supremely talented, but because parts of it just don’t make sense; have you ever seen a band use a 35mm film synchronizer as an instrument? Do you even know what one is, or that it could be used as an instrument? I didn’t, and even after talking to Holy Fuck frontperson Brian Borcherdt at the merch table, I stilldon’t understand how it works. But that’s part of the magic: it’s danceable, evocative dance noise that makes dance music compelling to watch.
Hot Chip never became a household name like they always deserved to be, but they have a devoted enough following at this point that people of all types – from late-30s people dressed like they just came straight from work to teens looking to cut a rug with their moms – can be spotted at their shows. From the moment they kicked into Why Make Sense? opener “Huarache Lights,” the crowd was hyped – a treat for anyone who spends as much time as I do watching Portland’s crowds fail miserably to dance as they should. This was no problem: the dancefloor was a sweat-drenched mass for the entirety of their show, smiles painted on every face. Even if you’re not into Hot Chip’s music, the pure energy of the crowd was enough to get anyone dancing.
Luckily, Hot Chip leave very little to not like, which is likely why even the band can’t help but dance like maniacs. Their live show is the full package: a massive band (seven people!), absurd outfits (Taylor wore a pastel striped button-up and shorts with bedazzled corn on them), their visuals all dazzling lights and a series of lit-up colored panels made to look paint splattered, something like the cover of A Bath Full of Ecstasy. Rarely do you get to see a band having this much fun on a stage together, and it’s downright uplifting. Their set criss-crossed their catalog since The Warning, with all of their hits – “Ready for the Floor,” “One Life Stand,” and of course, “Over & Over” – represented. They delivered a truncated version of “And I Was a Boy from School,” perhaps the only real misstep, though admittedly this was because I love this song and would have preferred the full version, rather than one fused with Ecstasy cut “Hungry Child.”
And then there was “Sabotage” – yes, the Beastie Boys song. The last time the band played here, they performed a glittering dance-pop take on Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” and because their static setlist meant that the inclusion was no surprise to me, I went into the show expecting the same treatment of the Beasties classic. Never the kind of band to follow expectations, though, they delivered a mammoth straight cover of the song, Taylor abandoning his gentle voice to channel Ad-Rock, shouting the song into two mics as he stalked the stage, the band behind him thrashing as strobes flashed around them. It was not something I expected from the night, but it was hard not to imagine how nice it is for the butter-smooth Taylor to shift into a mode of fury that potent.
And, because they were determined to keep the crowd after an adrenaline rush like that, they shifted into showoff mode by bulldozing the room with “Over & Over,” still as addicting and noisy as it ever was. That could have been the end of the night, but they still kept going with more beloved songs, closing with “Ready for the Floor” and coming back from an encore break with “Made in the Dark,” a beautiful power move, and can’t-fail closer “I Feel Better.” Hot Chip, if you’re listening: you can come back without a new album, we’ll be happy to come to any party you throw.