Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Health: Live at The 7th St Entry

Originally published on In Review Online.

I probably wouldn’t have considered myself a big Health fan until I fell in love with their recent sophomore release Get Color. Their self-titled debut from 2007 was loud and eclectic, but failed to leave enough of an impression for me to return to it. Get Color is far more cohesive and accessible, that is if you like a little noise with your dance rock. Like a much louder Battles, Health makes it clear that volume matters—the first line on the inside jacket of the CD is “This record should be played at a minimum of 90db.” I couldn’t have been more excited when I read that they were going to play with Health re-mixer and label-mate Pictureplane, at The 7th Street Entry. This is my kind of show: small, loud and energetic.

I approach The Entry glad that I am on my bike, because traffic is not moving. As I get closer, I realize that the snarl’s epicenter is right outside The Entry and the adjoining First Avenue. Cop cars surround First Ave as a mass of people, most with their faces painted in black and white, pour out on to the street screaming things I clearly do not understand. For the first time, The Entry acted as a sanctuary away from the chaos. “What the hell is going on?” Without an ounce of amusement, the woman at the ticket window said, “All ages Insane Clown Posse show.” Wow. My first contact with the famed Juggalos and Juggalettes! I had often heard about the rabid and dedicated following that ICP has developed, but it all existed outside of my circles. No longer. The cops were busy monitoring the crowd of largely under-age fans and the approaching 10:00pm curfew. Thankfully, I do not have to worry about any of that.

The Entry’s ambiance is much more mellow compared to the street riot brewing outside. Opened to accompany the much larger First Avenue, The 7th Street Entry is the fabled cavern of The Replacements and the so-called Minneapolis sound of the early 80s. Over the past 30 years, just about every band of humble beginnings has played here. Its modest capacity makes it one of the best places to see live acts and I am here to testify that I have seen some of the best shows of my life in this small little room.

I arrive slightly late, missing opening act Juiceboxx, a punk hip-hop hybrid from Milwaukee, and one-man band Pictureplane is setting up his gear, not on the stage, but down on the floor with people crowded around him. Even though it is a bit of a lull, people are getting their groove on to R. Kelly that is playing in between sets. Jupiter Keyes from Health is running the merch table and admonishing himself for not knowing how much stuff costs. “I should know how much stuff is, but I don’t normally… John will be back in a second.” He sold me by simply being sweet and self-effacing.

Picturplane’s modest setup amounts to a couple of effects boxes, a small keyboard, a mixer, a mic, two sets of colored lights, and most importantly, his iPod nano—replete with crinkly shiny paper hanging from his x stand. He requests that R. Kelly be turned down so he can test his equipment, and shortly thereafter, cues up the beats and starts rocking. Live, his electronic house music is less gloss and more fuzz. Initially he had people hopping, but by the end of the set most had gone listless to the pumping beats. Blame it on the homogeneity of the songs, or the lack of interest in the actual performance, or the fact that he was dancing harder than anyone else in the audience, but somewhere between R. Kelly and iPod fiddling, Pictureplane loses this very-ready-to-dance crowd.

Once the floor has been cleared. People start mashing towards the front. I hadn’t noticed, but The Entry is quickly filling up. I find a spot literally on top of a large speaker (large enough to share it with one other person) at the very front left corner of the triangular stage. The four members of Health are coming on stage, all business. Since Pictureplane was down on the floor, there is really not much set up. I’m not sure what it is all about, but they all have a lot of tape on their guitars. Modifications? I have no idea. They all do a quick test of their guitars, gadgets, drums, mics and they seem to be ready. But then singer-guitar player Jake Duzsik says, with no humor, “We’re not supposed to play until 11:30, so were not just hanging around.” And they leave the stage. The bar no doubt wants to pilfer our money for another overpriced beer, but those 15 minutes seem to last forever.

They reappear, 11:30 on the spot, and like mad animals rip into “Death+.” John Famiglietti, who plays bass and runs a whole mass of effects equipment, is thrashing around like a mad man, and everyone in the audience can’t help but follow his lead. All four members are a torrent of energy that is being channeled through their various instruments, and they barely stopped for applause. The crowd is eating it up. I am sort of perched above it all, but occasionally it became too much for my fellow speaker-sitter and he would leap head first into the crowd. There hardly seems to be the mass needed to catch him, but he emerges unscathed and scrambles back up beside me only to do it again five minutes later. Jupiter and John both have equipment and instruments set up on the floor, instead of on stands, in front of them, and at one point both of them are crawling around on the floor—Jupiter playing keyboard and John running effects. Burly drummer BJ Miller is equally kinetic, but never leaves his seat. During “Nice Girls,” Jupiter picks up a couple drumsticks and pounds out the beats with BJ on a drum of his own, and he looks like someone getting ready for war.

The energy in the room is completely contagious, as if the members of Health, the audience and the music are molecularly resonating at the same velocity. Although they play nearly every song off Get Color—I think—the set is disappointingly short. People beg for another song, and they deliver almost immediately. When I go outside and see them taking a breather by the back door, I reassess the very short (but satisfying) set. Health’s show was a rare display of a band willing to perform an exhilarating 45-minute sprint instead of an uninspiring 1½ hour walk—a classic case of quality not quantity.

Check out their video for "Die Slow" from Get Color.

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