House of Blues
October 5, 2010
My unfortunate tautological infatuation with tautology peaked around the same time as the Ratatat show Thursday night. This was fortunate because it allowed me to answer such questions like, “how do you play a Ratatat song?” Answer: you play a Ratatat song.
The band, touring off of their 4th album titled their 4th album (LP4) sounded like Ratatat which is good if Ratatat is what you want to hear. Ringing guitar lines, crunchy bass hooks, a hip hop homage of beats and samples. Ratatat is Ratatat and nothing quite sounds like Ratatat. That isn’t to say Ratatat is great music. It’s good music, it’s catchy, it has, holds, and nurtures a beat and a groove, letting it mature into a carousing and danceable enveloping cocoon.
It’s studying music. Music to dance to (caveat: waist up only) with earbuds tucked tightly into ear drums sounding a beat. No lyrics, no surprises, you get what you get: two guitarists and a laptop. Unfortunately, this means much of the Ratatat experience can’t be translated on stage. The beats are largely pre-recorded, the visuals are synched to a track. If the band went comatose on stage, the music would persist. These conditions also apply to Ashley Simpson and that is no good at all no siree, for in case the memo didn’t reach your inbox, the point of a live show is to see a band play live.
So why see Ratatat perform? I’m still debating the greater-than, less-than, and equal between seeing Ratatat live and playing their album on a nice stereo with friends and abundant LSD. The most persuasive bit of evidence came from the band.
Their stage set up had no spotlights, no center of attention here I am with my cock-rocketing strat-ivarius. In fact, they were highlighted most by their absence. Two generic silhouettes cast against striking visuals of cockatiels and rotating busts of baroque composers. On each side of the stage, two screens displayed holographic avatars playing cello and violin in rococo attire. They absorbed my attention and if the band went from stage front to stage back, I doubt I would have noticed.
It’s funny, their last LP was riddled with classical riffs and yet the only theme and variation came during the first encore track, “Seventeen Years.”
“I’ve been rapping for so long,” the sample for the song begins. How long? Six years on from when their first single “Seventeen Years” became extant. That’s a long time to be rapping the same thing. Same guitar lines, same hooks and patterns. I can pick out a Ratatat melody line because it sounds like a Ratatat melody line. It sounds good, dances right, and fills a sonic space more than two guitars and a laptop should, but dammit,
I just wish they’d do it once more with feeling. Ratatat may be Ratatat and something is better than nothing, but nothing more is still nothing less than the same thing once again.