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Something Like a Phenomenon

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After a ninteen year hiatus, Liquid Liquid triumphantly returned to a revitalized New York music scene on March 7 at New York City's Knitting Factory with Out Hud in tow.

Something Like a Phenomenon

Something is in the air these days.

Maybe it’s the crashing economy and steadily growing national debt, the scent of war hanging in the air, our depressed education system, or any number of indicators that seem to scream “America’s gone done and went Conservative again!” After all, this is a lot what the late ’70s/early ’80s U. S. of A. looked like (or so I’ve read in Dead Kennedys’ lyrics). Bands like Television, Mission of Burma, the Sun City Girls and ESG that all had their first go-round in those equally confusing times have already come back to say hello to a new generation. Even better still, they’ve all defied any potential naysayers by still maintaining a huge sense of vitality. And apparently, as evidenced by a blistering pair of sets at New York’s Knitting Factory a couple of weeks back, pioneering dance-rockers (or maybe disco-not-discoers?) Liquid Liquid have decided to add their name to that short, but noteworthy list, giving nod to the current group of bands following the grooves of the quartet’s seminal early ’80s EPs, while also showing that they’re not just a name-check quite yet. Even better still, Out Hud were tapped as the opener for both sets, supplying a nice modern contrast to the aesthetics Liquid Liquid were forging over nineteen years ago.

After (allegedly) spending a short opening set working through some bugs, Brooklyn quintet Out Hud hit the stage with a cool confidence a bit after eleven o’clock. They slowly worked into the groove of a new track (“The Song So Nice They Named It Thrice”), with Phyllis Forbes laying down thick, dubby bass lines over Justin Vandervolgen’s bouncing disco rhythms. Nic Offer and Tyler Pope responded in kind with their keyboards, cutting atmospheric blips and squiggles on top of Molly Schnick’s ebbing and flowing cello lines. While last year’s excellent S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. seemed heavy on the dub at times, their recent live shows have shown Vandervolgen alternating his Lee Perry-like instincts with those of Arthur Russell – building the beats with some drum machines, keyboards, and mixers (and whatever the hell else he keeps tucked back there on stage), leaving little opportunity for anyone else to renege on the rhythm. Pope switched to bass while Forbes sidled up to the keyboard for a couple of great vocal tracks. These seemed reminiscent of the spare call-and-response vocals of ESG, only with a throbbing electro-funk undercurrent pushing the whole mess along. The highlight of their set, though, was the driving “Dear Mr. Bush, There Are 500 Words for Shit and One Word for Music – Fuck You, Out Hud”. The last time I heard this one live it was a vocal take, but this time out the group wisely backed away from the microphones and let the instruments do the talking. Over a propulsive and shifting rhythm, the band backed up their recent acclaim – tense, electronics- and funk-laden jams that should force your ass to reconsider its position against the wall. With any luck the residents of New York will get to see them soon in something other than an all-too brief opening slot.

When Liquid Liquid took the stage it was well after midnight and the crowd was loose with booze and the lingering rhythms of Out Hud’s soundsystem. Any fears of rust, though were laid to bed quickly as drummer Scott Hartley and bassist Richard McGuire locked into a vicious rhythm owing as much to visceral punk rock as buoyant disco, allowing percussionist Dennis Young to lurch forth with collapsing rhythms while Salvatore Principato wailed above it all. Granted, I was all of four-years-old when Liquid Liquid last took the stage, but I can’t possibly imagine them having lost much of a step since then. If they have, those early shows must have been nothing short of incendiary bursts of intensity. Their set was all business with a few smiles for old time’s sake. They blew through most of their old material, re-igniting a spark that some feared may have been doused for good when 99 Records went down after a nasty sample suit (which the band and the label won just before going bankrupt). Hazes of taut, wobbly bass lines mixed with thunderous, heavy-handed percussion, some occasional xylophone and melodica bits throw in for added intensity or atmosphere – take your pick. Without much of pause for banter or breath, the quartet gave the crowd everything they had been hoping for, leading all the way up to the obvious encore of “Cavern”. Despite the predictability, it was amazing to hear a classic pouring out with more energy than was ever apparent on those old records. All stripped down funk, it resonated with an unmistakable urgency that infectiously pulsed throughout the crowd.

While it’s possible that Out Hud keeps sharing bills with legit luminaries of independent music because of savvy marketing skills, it’s more likely that all the bands they’ve accompanied are tapping the same blazingly great zeitgeist. Hopefully this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Liquid Liquid. It became obvious from the crowd’s demographic that the band had not only managed to keep its old fans during their hiatus, but they also lured new ones as a result of reissues, comps, influence, and word of mouth. Here’s to hoping that they take the momentum from those Knitting Factory sets and run with it, setting dance floors on fire left and right with that unmistakable spark that was forged on the stage. The shows were a raging success if only because of time’s irrelevancy on that Friday night – 1983 bled seamlessly into 2003 and disparate generations joyously concurred that if the end of the world was in fact imminent, they would greet it in unison, dancing until the wee hours of the night.

By Michael Crumsho

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