Sunday, April 25, 2010

Contenders Series #30: jj - "Let Go"

Oh, they should have sent a poet.  There's just no way I'll be able to capture the epic, quiet weirdness of this show.  But let's try.

jj, an anonymous band from Sweden, make a kind of sleepy, stoner Scandinavian calypso music, a collage of found sounds and re-purposed hip hop lyrics over drum machines and acoustic guitars.  The band's breakthrough second album was completely uncredited, and even Wikipedia doesn't seem to have any hard information on the group.

Due to Bottom of the Hill's tradition of scheduling weekend shows that last basically until sunrise, we showed up at the venue at midnight, with basically no idea what to expect.  Would there be a band?  A DJ?  How many of them?  Male or female?  How old?  The rest of our group had no idea, either.  Ilana locked down her traditional right-side perch, and we waited.

Eventually, a young-ish woman with curly blond hair came out, to little fanfare, and began playing a jj song on acoustic guitar.  We looked around.  Was this it?  Or were they just starting small, building up to something, like Talking Heads classic live album Stop Making Sense?  Would more band members come on stage one at a time, building up to huge, full sound?

Well ... that last question is harder to answer than it might appear.  After two simple acoustic songs, the singer put down the guitar, and a backing track kicked in, and she preceded to do a very competent jj karaoke for a few songs.*  During this time, a skinny, pale dude wandered onstage in a camouflage winter coat and a bandanna obscuring his face like a bank robber.  Was he in the band?  Was he some crazy dude?  We had no idea.  He looked Swedish.  We assumed he was part of the deal.

* As with Sleigh Bells, the attitude seems to be, "Well, we made these sounds before.  Why should we have to make them AGAIN?  We're here, and you're listening to us.  It's the exact same experience ... right?"

Now, this kid might have been the artistic genius behind the entire jj experience.  This is possible.  I don't know.  During the show, however, his to-do list looked like this:

 - Slowly remove jacket and bandanna to reveal that he was wearing a white-on-white jj shirt.  Do Swedes not know that it's not cool to wear your own band's shirt onstage?  Are the Swedes so far ahead of us that it actually IS cool to do this, and the news just hasn't gotten back to us yet?
-  Pick up acoustic guitar, half-heartedly pluck out little guitar riffs on songs where the backing track already featured a much louder acoustic guitar part
-  Stop playing guitar mid-song, for basically no reason, put guitar down
-  Stare weirdly at singer, from an uncomfortably close distance, for entire songs
-  Hug singer from behind, also for entire songs
-  Bury head in singer's hair ... again, sometimes for entire songs

So ... who ARE you people?  Are you dating?  Brother and sister?  Some kind of White-Stripes in-joke where you say you're brother and sister but really you're a divorced couple?!?  Never explained.  Except for a "Thank you" upon leaving, there were no words spoken during the show.

In addition to the weirdness playing out onstage, the band also utilized the "projecting random images and video clips onto a screen behind us" gimmick you'll see from time to time.  Sometimes the random video clips were of the band themselves, adding another level of weirdness to the wormhole of the show.  Other times the screen would show wild animals, or black-and-white film of people walking to work.*

*  I don't want to explode any dorm-room stoner myths, but does anyone really think there's anything to the "Dude, 'Dark Side of the Moon' and 'The Wizard of Oz' sync up perfectly, bro" urban legend?  Because, after watching as much random video projected behind bands as I have, you learn that your brain just makes those connections automatically.  Everything syncs up with everything else.  Still, it's a cool trick at shows.

Eventually, the weird skinny dude wandered back offstage, and the show wound down.  The backing track petered out.  The girl picked up the acoustic guitar again, led the crowd though a one-verse "Lithium" sing-along, and that was it.  No encore.*  Nothing.  We were left to find meaning in ... that.

*Ilana and I have been talking about encores a lot lately.  Titus Andronicus didn't play one, though it seems like circumstances were against them on that one.  La Roux played one song, and Ilana thinks that's the perfect encore length.  Save one of your hits, play it last, and that's it.  I do agree that the multi-song encore is a little bit overwrought.  Audience members have internal clocks.  When you walk offstage for the first time, no matter how awesome the show was, people out in the crowd start thinking, "Okay, five or ten more minutes, and it's over."  If you play a twenty-minute encore, no matter how good you are, a lot of people will be getting restless.

I guess my first question was, "You came all the way from Sweden to do this?"  Was this even, really, a concert?  What WAS this?  Everyone looked around, like we were supposed to be upset, supposed to feel cheated, but we didn't.  One of my friends said, "It was like watching someone perform a concept album.  I wondered what they were going to do with an empty stage.  Turns out ... nothing."

I can't tell you why, but I like jj more now, after experiencing ... whatever that was.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, just reveling in the weirdness.  So ... I guess it was a success.

I guess ...

Download:  jj - Let Go

Official Site
Hype Machine
Order jj No. 3

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