It was weird at first. For one, we had to sit still. We had to keep quiet, and we had to sit down. In seats. Everybody was isolated; there was no dance floor, there was no chaos, there was no rushing to the stage after the opening bands. In fact, there wasn't an opening band at all, really, but classical music. Classical music at a rock concert. Beautiful, yes. Shostakovich. A single pianist on the stage: a boy from Yale. This was just the first of hundreds of ways in which a Books concert is truly unique, truly different from any other.
Different, yes, and magnificent. Occasionally I'm disturbed by the amount of really good reviews I put up here, but then I realize the amount of bad reviews I don't put up because I don't want to relive the experience, or bad-mouth an artist or venue. Believe me, then, when I say that the Books, this past Thursday night at Columbia's very own Miller Theatre, was unbelievable. Quite.
Then again, how could you have a standing-room concert for the Books? No, perhaps seating was even necessary. As you can see from this music video, the Books are unlike any other rock band. For one, there are only two members. One, Nick Zammuto, is a guitarist, and the other, Paul de Jong, is a cellist. Yes, in lieu of a bass guitar or drums, or even a keyboard, there is a cello.
Also unique is the use of sound clips that give the Books their distinct sound. In Take Time the sound clips are more evident: basically the bulk of each song is a selection of sounds, either completely improvised and taken from the street, from film and sound archives, from random cameras and tape recorders found on the street... really, everywhere. It is more or less sound-recycling, a "sound-gleaning," somehow even related to my last entry about freeganism and Agnes Varda. They're sound-collectioners, and spectators realize, upon going to the concert, that really everyone is a sound-collectioner. The Books reproduce the way we think in sounds, the way words and images flow together seamlessly-- really, the very fabric of memory.
There's also a visual element to the concert than I'm loath to mention. Really the effect is lessened when you know it beforehand. Instead, just believe that the Books are true artists, and reach out to other genres such as film to intensify their music. So beautiful is this "effect" (I will call it an effect to keep from giving it away) that new songs often become even more exciting than the dependable oldies. Almost half of the songs were new, and all were brilliant. I have a feeling their upcoming CD (upcoming when?? who knows!) will be the most experimental yet.
It will also be the most funny. There's another element often unseen in rock shows, especially indie rock (and emo, the wretched perversion of indie rock): humor. The Books don't take themselves too seriously. Sure, they have a cellist and are soft-spoken and intelligent, but they're also funny. The audience erupted into laughter every few minutes-- genuine laughter, good-natured laughter.
Strange, though, the effect a Books concert produces. Rather than feeling a general sense of communion and exuberance (the way a punk show does, for example), this concert drew everyone apart and into themselves. The Books is day-dreaming music, so while rapt with attention, everyone was breathless and silent. There was no commenting, no sneezing, no shouting (except for the end of every song). Everyone became an introvert. In this way I suppose a Books concert is a strange blend of classical and rock (what rock concert has a standing ovation at the end? what rock concert has required seating? what rock concert has no beer?). It might explain all the bizarre venues they have chosen to play at, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (rock concerts in a musuem?)
If these statements might seem pejorative to you, they are wrong. It was somehow cleansing to be comfortable and separated during a concert. Cozy, almost. Like relaxing before a warm fireplace, or daydreaming while splayed out on your bed. Glorious.