F or a band with zero stage presence, London-based space-rock combo Laika are far more engaging than they have any right to be. Credit excellent songwriting and a drummer so on his game that Tea Party skinsman Jeff Burrows, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a blissfully gyrating Wolfgang Webb at Lee's Palace Thursday, was left slack-jawed by his performance.
Admittedly, no one familiar with Laika's records would expect gonzo performance tactics from either singer/guitarist Margaret Fiedler or chief soundscape architect Guy Fixsen. Theirs is carefully crafted music, the type where ambient guitar murmurs and raindrop keyboard runs propel the delicately percolating songs. It's otherworldly head music you can dance to.
But while Fiedler has a fabulous voice - hushed, free of vibrato and almost conspiratorial in delivery - her static stageside manner leaves her audience very much outside the experience of the music. Maybe she's just shy, but given that her sidekick remained slouched over his fancy-schmancy keyboard all night, she really needed to do more to invite us in than whisper "Cheers, thanks" and coax effects out of her guitar.
Too bad, because Laika was playing to a friendly crowd, and since they're buds with headliners King Cobb Steelie, their allotted set time was generous. That's where drummer Lou Ciccotelli became crucial. Tossing off complex polyrhythms as effortlessly as someone throwing coins in a fountain, he quickly commanded all excess visual and aural attention. Burrows, who knows a thing or two about rhythms collected from around the world, actually air-drummed along, anticipating Ciccotelli's next paradiddle before he even played it.
Laika's music may be best enjoyed with headphones, but credit is due for recreating onstage the chilling sonics of their albums, albeit boringly.
LAIKA, opening for KING COBB STEELIE, at Lee's Palace, October 5. Tickets: $10-$12. Attendance: 400. Rating: NNN