Blonde Redhead w/ The Mast, El Rey Theater, Los Angeles, CA – 9/03/13Blonde Redhead // Photo Credit: Los Anjealous
By Gabriel Mathews
My relationship with Blonde Redhead is probably a lot like that of most fans my age. I started listening to them sometime in high school, when 23 was pretty new and its sleek sound and driving beats, coupled with Kazu Makino’s sex-kitten mewling and husband Amadeo Pace’s nasal groaning somehow hit me just right. Songs like “SW,” “By Spring and Summer Fall,” “Dr. Strangeluv,” and the title track all hit a certain sweet spot for unintelligible suaveness, just moving enough to be interesting but not more than a couple layers of dead skin deep.
Then I moved backwards—Misery Is A Butterfly was like a rougher-around-the-edges version of 23, with more baroque flourishes and less Flood. Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons had a few highlights (most obviously the fan favorite pop jam “This Is Not”) but mostly left me cold. Their early nineties one-two punch of Fake Can Be Just As Good and In An Expression of the Inexpressible didn’t do much for me initially, but when I started listening to the shit that influenced them (Sonic Youth, Unwound, Fugazi) those two albums became the epitome of what Blonde Redhead stood for to me— dueling atonal guitars matched by even less tonal yelping, pummeling drums, and even less decipherable lyrics. Derivative, perhaps, but these kids had some serious energy, and put more sex in the sound than most of their inspirations, even when those inspirations were producing their albums and playing bass for them (see Guy Picciotto and Vern Rumsey).
But after their entirely blah newest record, 2010’s Penny Sparkle, ditched the guitars for synths and BR moved all the way into the lounge, I had no clue what to expect from this one-off show at the El Rey.
Turns out, Blonde Redhead can still rock. Only hitting on Penny Sparkle via its two singles early on in the set, the band chugged through a series of 23 and Misery highlights, hitting “This Is Not” to rapturous cheers and “Melody Of Certain Damaged Three” for a bit more noise. Amedeo and Kazu’s chemistry was infectious as their playing intertwined, Kazu’s energy being especially enticing (and damn sexy). While they didn’t play anything older than Melody, I can’t say the show was even the slightest bit disappointing, even for a fan of their old shit.
What surprised me even more than the band’s consistent quality was their fans’ unadulterated adulation. A band that gets constant flak for unoriginality, whatever they’re doing inspires a whole lot of love from their fans, who didn’t stop screaming things like “Marry me!” and “FUCK YEAHHHHH” throughout the set. Every song got a huge reaction, even the Penny cuts. Blonde Redhead may be heavy on style and light on substance, but it doesn’t seem their fans (whose median age reminded me just how long these guys have been around) mind at all.
When Makino dedicated the last song of their encore to the producer of their new album (who was apparently somewhere in the audience), I was expecting them to play what would have been the first new track of the night. Instead, they surprised me with one of my personal favorites, Misery closer “Equus.” In this song, Makino shrieks “Allow me to show you the way which I adore you.” That night, Blonde Redhead did nothing but that, and fans old and young returned the favor.