LADYTRON with Phaser and Simian at the Phoenix, February 24. Tickets: $16. Attendance: 900. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
ladytron sure know how to work an aes- thetic. Clad in identical minimalist charcoal-coloured suits and sporting identical mod dos and blank expressions on their beautifully bone-structured faces, the glam quartet (fleshed out by a live bassist and drummer) held court like a robot army in front of a screen of grainy black-and-white projections. Think Devo minus the irony and the bright colours. Actually, think Metropolis. You know, the early-20th-century Fritz Lang film about a dystopian future. With their Russian Supremacist style and deadpan electro-pop, Ladytron restore the humanity to ice-cold techno and make a glorious aural suspension bridge between man and machine. Note to Hollywood: when you do the inevitable remake, call this band for the score.
Their restraint was particularly striking after a couple of flailing sets by the openers. Washington's Phaser were an instant flashback to Radiohead, straddling that band-changing moment between the Bends and OK Computer. They relied on lush and shimmery electric guitar and a whole whack of pedals to drive their spacious alt-rock, but didn't have Thom Yorke's choirboy vocals to back it up, and the guitars-on-hyperdrive jam that closed their set was just dull.
Second stringers Simian tried too hard with their glitchy, bouncy Brit techno-pop, and grew tiresome. Although the three-person drum assault and hand-clap percussion on old B-side Reasons was kinda nifty, the overabundance of too-sweet pop hooks and Simon Lord's silly falsetto came off kinda cloying after too many songs.
Ladytron throw a frighteningly captivating show while breaking every rule of performance. The po-faced ensemble maintain a clinical distance between band and audience (no dismantling of the fourth wall here), stripping their show of banter, antics and all spectacular qualities to create a lean, mean musical machine. Lady-boys Reuben Wu and Daniel Hunt stayed sequestered behind their Korgs and samplers, barely glancing at the crowd, while double threat vocalist-keyboardists Helena Marnie and Mira Aroyo couldn't have looked more bored.
But the attitude works. With a limited musical language, Ladytron force synth sounds to span a spectrum of human emotion. By the time they turned playful on the fourth (!) encore -- a brilliant take on Tweet's insipid Oops! (Oh My) delivered at lightning speed -- any doubters in the crowd had turned into firm believers in the church of Less Is More.firstname.lastname@example.org