ATLAS SOUND at Lee's Palace, Tuesday, March 6. Rating: NNNN
On the afternoon of Tuesday's concert for his solo project, Atlas Sound, Bradford Cox was in the headlines.
Not for selling out Lee's Palace, or for his recent release Parallax. But the 29-year-old singer and guitarist was in meme territory for performing an hour-long rendition of The Knack's obnoxious 1979 hit My Sharona in response to a fan request in Minneapolis.
Not your ordinary buzz.
Despite a few (weak) attempts at coaxing the crazy out by the gravelly-voiced bro element in the audience, the mood throughout his two-hour set was more casual than chaotic - polite, even.
Cox, who is also the lead singer and guitarist for Atlanta psych rock group Deerhunter, is on tour in support of Parallax, his third album as Atlas Sound. Released last year, it's sprightly and strum-y four-chord pop tunes drew critical praise as being his most accessible work to date. On stage, however, he uses all manner of loops and effects to elongate and distort those memorable melodies.
The song extensions are partially functional: Cox performs alone so he takes his time looping and layering guitar parts, reverbed vocals and occasionally bass and drum parts, into a swelling crescendo of noise, effectively becoming a one-man wall of sound.
Dressed in a bright orange pants and a loose, black-and-white flannel shirt, he said little during the show's first hour. Seemingly relaxed, Cox is like a musical Jekyl and Hyde that goes from genteel troubadour to sonic assault in a few seemingly simple pushes of a pedal.
During opener Parallax, he surrounded the song's bouncy acoustic guitar riff with a reverberating drone that evolved gracefully into intense waves of distortion. For the romantic Te Amo, he layered a series of increasingly scratchy acoustic guitar loops with bass and drum parts. As he belted out aching, heartfelt lyrics, he gradually transformed his high-pitched wail into a screeching echo.
Other times, he'd cultivate a squalling noise, end it abruptly and then perform acoustically, drawing more attention to his creaking enunciations and unexpected emphasis as he did with Parallax's most hummable tune, Mona Lisa.
During a guitar changeover an hour into the set, he broke the silence to thank the audience for attending. "It means a lot of me," he said. As the guitar tech took his time, gratitude morphed into rambling and the audience did it's best to inspire Cox's improvisational chops.
"This is the break where I talk and make an ass out of myself and negate all the music," he said, dryly.
The heckling was equally dry. "I like your last article," one person yelled, mystifyingly. Cox responded with a rant about Internet infamy. The next person complimented one of his previous albums.
"This is really polite and genuine and not usually what happens during these awkward moments," he observed. "I wonder if this'll get a headline: ‘Broken Guitar String Results In Train Wreck.' Click click cluck cluck."
For the set's final song, he played lilting, spacey ballad Terra Incognita and dedicated it to Trish Keenan, the late singer from British group Broadcast, with whom he toured three years ago. When he returned for an encore, the audience finally got a rise out of him.
"Dance!" a man in front commanded. This resulted in a mock "Are you ready to party?!?" routine that somehow became a parody of hetero-normative lifestyle. "Are you ready to dance? Maybe you'll get laid! Maybe you'll get pregnant!" he snarled. "And get an abortion. Or keep the baby and get a mortgage."
This stream-of-conscious rant eventually culminated in pounding drums, distorted moaning and grunting and amorphous squall of noise. Suddenly, it ended and Cox proceeded to gently fingerpick the final bars of his song Flagstaff on his acoustic guitar. Inside the noise punk is a pop crooner yearning to get out - or vice versa.