At some point in human history, someone noticed a necessity for a thing called a fog machine—an instrument that could harness a darkly romantic, highly inconveniencing aspect of meteorology and bring it indoors. From this simple invention other entities sprang—electric cigarettes, goth clubs, sexy laser saxophone photoshoot montages, tears. Rather than dwell on the carnage (both dermatological and spiritual) that resulted from the Deus Ex Machina Tanning Bed Fog Machine Wars of 1980, I’m going to present you with one of the stupider thoughts I had and liked during this show, which is that a movie soundtrack is like a fog machine. Executed well, it enhances a sensory experience, one that’s mostly audio-visual, into one that’s more enveloping and other-worldy. Executed poorly, it blinds viewers to everything in front of them, turns an otherwise worthwhile experience into one that’s tacky and mildly soggy. So while the former slows your breathing and asks you to sink into the room’s atmosphere, the latter jolts you into self-consciousness. Are you in a goth club? How did this happen? Everything is upholstered with fishnets and doilies. You elbow through tides of pointy hair and bad ideas.
Yann Tiersen is known for the Amélie soundtrack—a good or bad thing, depending on how you felt about the movie. Tonight, much to the chagrin of the accordiancentric Francophilic xylophonophiles in attendance, Tiersen forswore his reputation—one built on soaring melodies spilled out of antique toy pianos—for a sound that was much heavier and crunchier. The Grape Nuts version of himself, then. He came equipped with an arsenal of sequencers and synths (which he wielded skillfully, like nunchucks!) and a rock band composed of five other dudes. “I don’t understand,” my friend said. “Six dour French guys aren’t that different than one dour French guy.” To be fair, the drummer didn’t seem morose at all. And neither did Tiersen, really—as a performer, he mostly just seemed unfamiliar. The show affirmed Tiersen’s capacity to flip genres on a dime, always within the same song. There were lots of lovely moments where he played trickster, making a melodica sound like a mandolin or a bass like a sitar, producing pipe-organ resonances out of nowhere, using a looper pedal to create a ghost orchestra out of a single violin. At no point was the show more affecting than when Tiersen’s band cleared off and left him to literally shred his bow on bars that imparted his mastery of classical music and classical heartbreak. Soundtrack-charm dropped in and out of a set that did end up sounding sprawling and cinematic, but without sure-footed grandiosity or storybook sincerity (I’m thinking of the Dirty Three), there was a sense that these songs lost their effectiveness by virtue of being on stage instead of on screen. Every song either rose or dropped to the tempo and tone of Loveless while scrambling to contain its own character as Tiersen introduced new elements—Euro math pop? African thrash jazz? Gnfdh? The effect wasn’t so much a wall of sound as a vat of it, strange mixtures of sub-sub-genres that showcased Tiersen’s remarkable skill, but never quite cohered. Plumes of smoke flowered out of fog machines like elegant sneezes, but we left before the encore.