Love and Death in Vegas
Throughout the alternative music press, Death in Vegas is pretty much universally regarded as standard-bearers of cool. The goodwill is often not reciprocated. Notoriously irritated by continuously being pigeonholed as "electronica," Death in Vegas has largely given up reading any of its own press. This is probably just as well, since the band's scintillating performance at the Paradise proved the last thing it needs is being told what to sound like.
It's easy to see the group's objection to its typecasting--despite band masterminds Richard Fearless and Tim Holmes touring with two guitar players, a bassist, a drummer, a keyboardist and a two-man horn section, the band is invariably compared to groups like Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack. Still, the easiest explanation for the persistence of the electronica label is the lack of a regular vocalist. After all, how many rock bands can you name that don't have a singer? In keeping with this idea of unconventionality, the band somehow managed to play a sterling, albeit too-short, set and escape the stage without uttering a single word. This disrespect for the traditional protocol of the rock band concert goes a long way towards explaining why Death In Vegas' music, both recorded and live, is as good as it is: the band just doesn't care what you think and is all the better for it.
The lilting guitar riff of the brooding album-opener "Dirge" kicked off the show, accompanied by a backdrop of World War II military footage. These video projections, provided by Lazy Eye, typically mirrored the repetitive nature of the music, with clips of kaleidoscopic insect heads, and mixing and bouncing faces serving chiefly to set the mood. "Dirge," along with "Dirt" and "Aladdin's Story," contained sampled vocals emanating from behind the live musicians.
While most of the songs came from their recent Contino Sessions album, several of the sample-centric tracks of Dead Elvis were spruced up by live arrangements. The grinding, nasty groove of "Dirt" was transformed into an almost soulful rave-up with horns, and as with the other up-tempo selections, the band came off sounding like Booker T. and the MGs in the year 2100. The highlight of the evening was "Flying," off the Contino Sessions. Less psychedelic and more rhythmically insistent than the album version, the densely layered music spiraled seemingly endlessly into a gorgeous wall of sound.
With their crack band doing most of the work, there wasn't a lot for Fearless and Holmes to do. When not twiddling knobs with an almost comical intensity or guzzling Rolling Rocks, they would bop carefully behind their banks of equipment or clap their hands in the air. During particularly intense moments in the music, they would rock to the beat in a perfect, unintentional mimicking of the audience--two diehard music lovers grooving to their own creations. At one point, the two leaders simply turned and stared at the projections behind them, hypnotized by the dazzling "Neptune City." It was a perfect, wordless moment, and crystallized the unspoken key concept behind Death In Vegas: the music is the message.
To read our interview with Tim Holmes,
turn to page B-3