WATW by Daiana Feuer
We Are the World started their set on Monday in flowing white burkas, complete with capes and little square hats like the Shriners wear. I was trying to figure out how to describe their look (KKK-esque? Like whirling dervishes?) when Manimal’s Paul Beahan whispered into my ear: “it’s like Chef Boyardee on acid!” …Of course! Everything Manimal Vinyl does is like something-or-other on acid. Beahan’s label is the bulwark of left-coast psychedelia for the early 21st century—a new psychedelia that seems to be more influenced by raves and millennial tension than by drum circles and love-ins. Accordingly, the byword on this night was “mesmerizing.”
We Are the World might never be able to top their performance at the Manimal Festival in Joshua Tree this October, which was the first time that I saw them. On Monday, the tiny Echo simply couldn’t compete with dusklight, vast backdrops of mountains and sand, a smattering of romantic stars, and yes—a head abuzz with a low dose of LSD. But that’s not the performers’ fault. Less a live band and more a fascist pep rally, We Are the World was harsh and intense, changing out of their flowing Chef Boyardee suits mid-show and settling into ninja uniforms while spinning around feverishly and even hoisting each other up on shoulders like real cheerleaders. Their leader commands the stage like I’d imagine Hitler would if he’d been into Marilyn Manson and had entertainment—rather than the complete annihilation of an ethnic group—as his agenda. Their music is relentless, heavy, and “big beat”—lots of audience chant-alongs, and lots of stuff that’s kind of like hip-hop or Lady Gaga. They’ve affected a cultish image, but with the sound system at the Echo it was impossible to tell what (if any) message they were trying to push other than “pay attention!” We got that message though, and it was loud and clear. We Are the World makes it very hard to not pay attention.
Earlier in the night, Rainbow Arabia dropped a set dominated by pitch-perfect renditions of songs from their most recent release, Kabukimono. I love that record, and I’m always glad to dip into the duo’s well-defined world of sometimes-menacing, sometimes-celebratory broken record tropicalia. Tonight’s highlights, however, were the handful of new songs generously interspersed throughout the show. When I first saw them sixteen months ago, lead singer Tiffany Preston seemed lost in her guitar and timid at the microphone. She looked totally different on Monday, adopting a true frontwoman swagger (maybe it was the suspenders and haircut, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of Patti Smith) while putting down the guitar and interacting with the audience in a way that I hadn’t previously seen from this band. Having already carved out a niche as a World Cafe electro jam band, Rainbow Arabia now seems to be moving towards less repetitious and more lyrical output. The new songs also seem more personal, although that’s just a hunch—aforementioned sound system issues rendered any serious analysis impossible. In any event, I’m really excited to hear their new record now.