I wonder what Dan Snaith was thinking when he decided to try to get Emeralds to tour with him. Anyone who enjoyed their newest album Does It Look Like I’m Here? probably never thought they’d be seeing it live, so the interest is there on the one hand, but on the other, Emeralds is a band with a very ambiguous level of shit-giving. They’ve put out dozens of releases since ’06, but with names like Dirt Weed Diaries Vol. 1 and Bullshit Boring Drone Band—and on cassette half the time.
Looking over their new Guest List on Pitchfork, one quickly finds that “Oh, I get it, they’re one of those bands that can only mention the extremely obscure, or ironically mainstream.” Then, hot on the heels of an album that worked, they go on tour and sell nothing but Mark McGuire solo stuff, plus What Happened and the new album. I might not be a fan of the names of the old stuff, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in hearing it.
When I did get inside, part way through Emeralds’ set, my suspicions of how the show would play out were confirmed. Emeralds, it seems, approach their stage show the same way they approach their image overall: it’s all about the music. Aurally, the band was superb. Their crystalline sound was translated from album to stage without a hitch. The bulk of the time I watched the band spend on one song, but that one song showed its range. At the flip of a switch —that lo-fi guitar from two years ago! Turn of a knob—Ray Lynch-ian new wave! Then back, with the press of a pedal, to the standard arpeggio madness one expects from the band. Great sound doesn’t excuse a boring visual show, though. The video the band projected through the show (stock images, like industrial manufacturing and cell division), was actually a pretty nice accompaniment to the music, but an entire shows worth of John Elliott’s turned back and eighth-grade-Metallica-fan head shaking was distracting, to say the least.
But who cares about them?! Not the crowd. A very warm sounding reception couldn’t keep you from knowing five seconds into “Kaili” who the people were there to see. For the next ten songs, every white person in Vancouver was in lock step with Snaith and his band. Setting up in a circle with Snaith and touring drummer Brad Weber’s drum kits closest to the audience, the opener, and “Leave House” after, showed the importance placed on rhythm by the four musicians. The vibration coming from the bass, synth and guitar was near constant, but one could always feel the spike of the beat through that haze.
Watching Brad Weber drum reminded me of Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier. He would start to play with the band, then quickly move into doing his own thing, as if he had lost the beat and gotten more complicated, only to find the beat again. The intensity of his and the rest of the band’s sound worked differently from song to song, ratcheting “Hannibal” up to make it as intense as “Odessa,” but stripping the nuance from “Melody Day” and making “Every Time She Turns Round It’s Her Birthday” more of a distraction than a treat. The show is best summed up by its two best songs: the encore “Sun,” and song of the night “Bowls”. With a band so focused, it’s unsurprising that the two instrumentals from Swim were the most interesting. The sample of the Tibetan singing bowl used at the start of “Bowls” was played by Weber, fast and precise enough to make the song sound like Gold Panda, only live. It was taken around for over ten minutes, and the greatness of “Sun” was all but predetermined. It was played for seven or eight minutes, and was a perfect encore.