Caribou in Concert

Eric Prichard

Indie electronic artists Caribou and F*** Buttons performed an engaging show at the Empty Bottle in Chicago on Friday, Apr. 11. On tour together, the two groups performed two shows at the Bottle, both sold out to an affectionate fan base. The groups led a rousing show of electronic wizardry, pop sensibilities, and percussion-driven indie rock.
F*** Buttons, an experimental electro-noise duo from Bristol, England opened the show with a short but lively set comprised of extended, improvisatory versions of songs included on their new release Street Horrrsing, from ATP Recordings.
The duo, comprised of Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power, is difficult to categorize. Utilizing a myriad of electronic gadgets and a children’s vocal microphone/tape deck, the group creates room-filling electronic beats and glitches with the lovely addition of Power’s guttural yelling, through said microphone. The result is an innovative and envelope-pushing electronic amalgamation. Ambient dreamscapes, throbbing house beats and incomprehensible screaming made for an exciting live show.
The duo and their equipment lay scattered across a makeshift table on the Empty Bottle stage, with Power and Hung on opposite ends of the table, coordinating drum breaks, keyboard loops and snare drum hits with fierce eye stares towards each other.
The set began with a song entitled “Sweet Love for Planet Earth” from Horrrsing. Unlike the recorded version, the duo looped the ambient, dreamy glockenspiel of the song and coupled it with dense soundscapes of keyboards and computers. The song progressed into a thoroughly complex organism of pulsing and throbbing beeps and mind-numbing bass.
Improvisation ruled the night, as they continually pushed the envelope throughout their set, creating increasingly dense atmospheres that permeated audience members to the core. Volume and incredibly coordinated lighting served to create deep sensory experience. Although their set required some patience –most of the songs were 10 minutes long — any noise-electro fan would have been drooling with fascination at their manipulative electronic wizardry. The crowd, with folded arms, seemed to enjoy the set in a folded-arms way, although F*** Buttons seemed that they would be more at home playing for a great house party than anywhere else.
The small venue filled to capacity, though, as Caribou was setting up their set. The 10:00 p.m. show was the second of the night for the two bands, with a 7:00 p.m. show having been added because the first show sold out. Dan Snaith, lead singer and mastermind behind Caribou, was accompanied by his usual live band, with the exception of drummer Brad Weber. Weber, sidelined with a fractured wrist, was replaced by Ahmed Gallab, the drummer from Sinkane. Gallab filled in flawlessly and one could not have guessed that he was not Snaith’s regular drummer. The accompaniment of bass, drums and guitar/keys followed Snaith who led from keys, guitar, drums, and occasionally recorder. There’s something exciting about the all-too-rare event of having two drum kits played at once, whether they’re complementary or in unison, and Caribou brought this excitement to the Bottle.
Caribou’s set consisted primarily of songs from 2007’s critically acclaimed “Andorra.” They played hits like “Melody Day,” “Sandy,” and “She’s the One,” while also playing some tracks from earlier works such as “Up in Flames.”
Caribou impressively recreated the song structures from the albums with little loss in quality or complexity. The vocals, both lead and back-up, were not always as on-target as they were on the album, but this misstep did not greatly detract from the performance and the band could not be faulted for anything else. All four musicians played excellently, going through complex pieces that required skill but no unnecessary showmanship.
The show did not focus on Snaith or any of the other members from the band, but instead made the event a multimedia experience. The band wore white shirts in front of the Bottle’s white sheet draped across the back of the stage, leaving any flamboyance at home. Snaith’s interactions with the crowd were minimal, occasionally thanking the crowd after enthusiastic applause.
The minimalism of the musicians led the crowd to focus on the music itself and the orchestrated lighting effects added another element to the experience of the concertgoer. Snaith’s vocals, as on his albums, were sung through two mikes and distorted. When combined with his lazy enunciation, the effect was to make the vocals an instrument as much as verbal output, further deemphasizing the people playing the music in favor of the music itself. Caribou’s beautiful creations draw the listener into rapture, and their show at the Empty Bottle craftily recreated and amplified this rapture.