Saturday, 10 September 2011

LIVE: HEALTH @ Jericho Tavern, Oxford (1/9/11)

HEALTH live. One way to describe the experience is; mind-fuck. I don’t think that I have been more terrified of a band in my life, and that has little to do with the unsettling sounds in their experimental noise rock. The LA four-piece not only know how to write compellingly original and exciting music, but they also know how to execute it live. It is horrifying how good they are.

The moment that they began clattering drums on stage at The Jericho Tavern and screamed at each other with death rattles as repulsive as Lord Voldemort’s, the audience knew that they were in for something different. Fan-favourite, ‘Die Slow’, with its bomb drop off-beats and oscillating synth fuzzes sounded flawless live, while Jake Duzsik and Jupiter Keys had their guitars so heavily drenched in gain that it was almost as if they were arrogantly challenging one another to match the tempo of the feedback to the marching rhythms, yet both achieved it with such smooth dexterity. Paradoxically, Duzsik’s soft, effeminate vocals brought a level of harmony to the scratchy sounds of ‘Die Slow’ and it is this bitter-sweet combination that makes HEALTH so utterly fascinating to watch live. How can zoothorns, dissonant guitars, seemingly out-of-tune synths and supple vocals fit so well together on a record, let alone live? It is because their music is so intelligent, brave and bizarre in comparison to the reams of rubbish surfer rock bands that have saturated the market in recent years. You cannot help but be drawn towards something so much more diverse, and four very talented and passionate musicians happen to be creating it.

‘Death +’ is the pinnacle of that unconventional attraction. The crowd are completely sucked into what can be best described as the sound of a computer melting; with sluggish, industrial beats that build until everything cuts out abruptly and bassist, John Flamigetti, stops spinning his long hair in a hypnotic spiral. HEALTH are simply teasing the audience with ‘Death+’; they know that everyone is desperate to hear more of their strangely enthralling clamour, or to delve into Duzsik’s melancholic world of repetitive, lyrical rhetoric, “Does it matter how?/Does it matter when? /If you market yourself for blood / How do you come back?”

When the set reaches the half-way mark, HEALTH suddenly offer more conventional sounds, starting with their brand-spanking-new cover of Pictureplane’s, ‘Goth Star’. Ironically, ‘Goth Star’ samples Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Seven Wonders’ (a product of one of the most melodious bands in rock history) so it is surprising that HEALTH would pinch it – yet it completely works under their experimental panache. The track seems to turn the sceptics amongst the crowd into believers while the band relish the chance to show off their more intricate musicianship with tight guitar pickings and skillful mixing – a far cry from the seismic wall of sound that has been flooding the stage thus far.

‘USA Boys’ lifts the bar even higher with weighty hip-hop beats that force the crowd to bounce so hard that it feels as is if the Jericho is going to collapse. Duzsik’s Cobain-inspired groans and meaty power chords clap to the shutter-snaps of electro-pop synths, and soon the most astonishingly gorgeous vocal harmony blossoms between Duzsik and Keys before the set draws to a close. That’s right, I am using the word “gorgeous” to describe HEALTH, because it is something that the band can stir into their rather ugly-yet-beautiful musical broth if they want to. And, my gosh, do they serve it well.


Published for the Oxford Music Blog (9/9/11)

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