As I predicted last week, Los Angeles noise outfit HEALTH smashed Rock & Roll Hotel into a million tiny pieces on Saturday night with a spectacular show of guitar and drum demolition. Constantly shifting gears between raw noise, power electronics, and their unique brand of danceable noise-pop HEALTH kept the audience gleefully off-balance for the duration. Their set was an audio killdozer, rolling over the crowd with its well-timed dual percussion, mad scientist guitar sounds, and deranged vocal manipulation. It was the most joyous and inventive celebration of controlled noise that I have seen come through DC so far this year.
As I mentioned previously, HEALTH’s set was a schizo-mix of noise styles ranging from maniacally abrasive chaos to well-controlled almost-pop. HEALTH never indulged in one area for too long, crafting a set that provided constant exhilaration. It was a potent mix of noise variations that satisfied die hard noise-heads and indie dance-fans alike.
For fans of noise music, the comparison of HEALTH to The BOREDOMS held true. The noisier portions of HEALTH’s set had a very early 90’s BOREDOMS feel to it. Their powerful drummer’s work was often amplified by another member pounding away on a large snare drum creating an tribal/industrial effect. Vocoders and other forms of vocal manipulation were used heavily through-out the night. During some of the noisier stretches of the set three of the band’s four members were screaming into modified microphones to creating a hellish banshee swarm sound. HEALTH’s use of guitars and bass as noise instruments was also impressive, as they looped them through pedals and other very complicated stacks of devices to turn these trad instruments into other-world sound-machines. Even at their most noisy it was very obvious that HEALTH are a well-rehearsed unit that are always in control of the mighty noise-forces they meddle with. It was a real treat to see this group of four wrangling this powerful noise sound into such awesome results.
HEALTH have gained a lot of popularity thanks to their two remix albums “DISCO” and “DISCO2”. On these remix albums, some of indie-tronica’s best have mined HEALTH’s noise to illuminate the group’s more rhythmic, danceable characteristics. It was obvious on Saturday night that HEALTH don’t really need the help of Crystal Castles to get a dance-floor moving. What really makes HEALTH unique in today’s indie landscape, and in the noise realm as well, is their ability to mold noise into an almost pop-consumable product, as they did on their brilliant album “Get Color”. HEALTH’s noise-pop was as prominently displayed as their pure noise was on Saturday night.
Never really letting off on the full throttle noise, HEALTH somehow modified and enhanced that sound into a dance-party by set’s end. A big part of HEALTH’s trick in doing this was the use of the Zoothorn (a modified microphone) which altered, singer, Jake’s voice to sound like some kind of soothing, monotone, digital angel. Whenever he would sing through the Zoothorn, whatever explosive sound the band was making would suddenly take on this dream-pop quality that the song would then ride til its conclusion. In a way this reminded me very much of Kevin Shields’ vocal effect when seeing My Bloody Valentine live.
HEALTH also relied on live keyboard playing and the use of midi’s to add that dance-edge to their raw noise sound. I got up close to watch the band playing with all of their digital instruments. I was mightily impressed with Jupiter’s live keyboard and midi playing. He had both of these tools on the floor of the stage and his dexterous playing could have easily been mistaken for pre-programming by those in the back of the room. My advice to Jupiter, put that keyboard on a stand because your playing is a joy to watch.
The whole band spent a lot of time moving around the stage, jumping up and down, and dropping to their knees. HEALTH are an energetic band to watch perform. Part of their movement was pure energy, part of it was positioning themselves to manipulate the number of devices they had secreted all over the stage. John, in a Bart Simpson t-shirt, was a dynamo as he knob twisted, smashed on the snare drum, switched form bass to microphone, and knee-worshiped in front of his stack of noise-makers. Jupiter was all over the stage as well, more often than not performing with his eyes closed in concentration. Meanwhile, Jake performed most of the vocal duties and shoegazer-strummed his guitar from underneath the pulled-low brim of his baby-blue LA Dodgers cap; while BJ the drummer smashed his instruments to bits from behind his mass of very-metal hair.
Everyone in the audience looked extremely happy and satisfied after HEALTH’s main-set and noise-joke, ultra-brief encore. Their set was both awe-inspiring in its noise fury and massive with its huge dance-floor rhythms. After the show, the DJ night upstairs got a large injection of smiling party people who were primed to dance by HEALTH’s irresistible concert.