Ratatat @ Gypsy Tea Room
Before Ratatat took the stage at Gypsy Tea Room last night, you could sense the electricity in the room. After they finished their set, the electricity was slapping the packed house across the face.
Last night was one of those rare moments in Dallas music that made you feel like people actually give a shit, and whether it was just an illusion or not, it felt great to be in a sold out venue full of people who there to see a band that was actually worthy of the buzz.
Ratatat's performance was everything I thought it would be and more, easily earning a spot on my list of favorite shows of the year. When I saw the band perform a couple of years ago, things were a bit different. For one, the entire performance was little more than two guys standing still, a drum machine, and some psychedelic visuals in the background. For another, there were about 30 people in attendance, most of whom appeared to be relatively unfamiliar with the material. It was a great show to be sure, but the mood was a bit subdued and the crowd was a bit puzzled, as many in attendance couldn't seem to quite figure out what they were looking at. Last night, Ratatat put on a much more animated stage show complete with better visuals, a third member on keyboards, and a large, informed audience that treated the whole thing like a dance party instead of a rock show. Its a good thing too, because the energy of the crowd was a huge factor in making the show as much fun as it was.
As I said in my post yesterday, Ratatat seems to take inspiration from such a wide variety of genres and past movements in pop that they really end up sounding like nothing you've heard before. The most obvious reference points are disco, hip hop, post-rock, idm, funk, house, and a healthy dose of prog guitar groups such as Yes and King Crimson. In a live setting, their music is largely beat driven and funky, and it was clear that the band wanted their songs to be used rather than dissected, infusing their music with a level of complexity that is interesting on its own yet completely disposable, considering that the vast majority of the focus was on moving asses rather than impressing music dorks. Of course, that isn't to say that Ratatat's musicianship wasn't impressive, because it was. The songs were tight, the guitar playing was complex and flashy, and the layers of sound were mood altering and joyous. As the band moved through their hour plus set of album cuts and newer tracks, it became clear that much of the energy and thought that went in to making their songs so interesting was actually more of an afterthought for the band and much of the audience, who were busy throwing their hands in the air, freaking their girlfriends, and generally not giving a shit about how cool they looked. Its probably useful to note that much of this band's recent output has come in the form of dance remix singles, because their performance was so tight that it often sounded like a DJ spinning dance records rather than two guys playing guitar on stage. Even the more subdued songs had a robotic and electronic feel that made you forget that the music was being played by human beings.
Many people were there to see a rock show, no doubt, and in many ways they got it. But the band was so good at what they did that the crowd was able to interact with the music freely, without having to focus all their attention on the band itself. The culmination of this mood came during the band's last song, when dozens of audience members jumped onstage to dance one last time. The audience was as much a part of the show as the band and almost as important as the music, and it was clear that Ratatat fed off this state of affairs and thrived as a result.
As I watched people dancing and screaming and having a blast, I was reminded of Pitchfork's review of The Rapture's Echoes, which the site named record of the year for 2003. In it, the author discussed the newness of seeing "indie" kids dancing at what appeared to be a rock show. Of course, this phenomenon is nothing new these days, and I'm not going to try to tell you that it is. In fact, it really wasn't an entirely new development back in 2003 either, since many seem to forget the close relationships that existed between post-punk, disco, and hip hop in the late 70's and early 80's. However, its still quite refreshing to see an audience get so excited about a band as innovative and unique as Ratatat. Promoters and record labels can keep trying to shove the same old bland "indie" pop down our throats, but its clear that people are looking elsewhere for inspiration and entertainment. And its safe to say that last night, they found what they were looking for.