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HEALTH @ Lincoln Hall

HEALTH w/Pictureplane
Where: Lincoln Hall
When: November 28th, 2015
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Neil Miller, Jr.

I’ve always had a passing interest in HEALTH – their music is polarizing to say the least.  Either you can appreciate the organized noise and the slightly comforting abrasive electronics they inject into their music, or you just consider it to be hot garbage.  For those in the latter category, now may be the time for you to rediscover the LA band.  Their new album, Death Magic, is the reason I made it a point to check out the guys at Lincoln Hall.  It’s far removed from their previous work, sounding more like a band who would sound at home on labels like Digital Hardcore or even Wax Trax!.  There are hooks, the production is clean as a whistle, and although there are still blasts of noise a la the old days, the record is largely based on electronic sounds rather than organic instruments (although Benjamin Jared Miller’s drums are still quite prevalent).  I just bought the album the day before the show and decided that I had to hear how this all translated onstage and thankfully, the results were scintillating.

Before I dig into HEALTH’s set, we have to have a chat about Pictureplane.  This guy makes some of the most interesting, confusing, and exciting music I’ve heard in a long time.  Anything goes with Travis Egedy – no era of music goes untouched.  I heard slices of 80s R&B, hard-hitting 808/909 beats that traversed everywhere between the trap and jungle genres, every sect of goth/industrial music imaginable, and his vocals…I can’t even put into words what he actually sounds like when he sings.  It was all so weird but that’s hardly a negative comment.  In fact, I thought his music paired with the constant visual projection of a Reptilian people conspiracy reel was thoroughly engaging.  There was nary a moment where my attention wasn’t fixed on Pictureplane’s performance.  Between the weird songs coming out of his setup of sample triggers and synths, his inimitable vocal delivery, and the comical video projection, the Pictureplane set was almost more attention-grabbing than what HEALTH was about to do.

We all knew that the HEALTH set was going to be brief and jam packed with energy…the HEALTH dudes really know how to be efficient with their live show.  They only have about 100 minutes of music, not including the Max Payne 3 score they did as well as remix albums, so it was to be expected that the show would fly by.  Going back to my earlier statement about always having been a lighthearted follower of the band who was converted into superfandom by the new record, I expected the new stuff to blow me away.  Surprisingly enough, I found myself having fallen more in love with the old tunes they performed.  “We Are Water” was a surefire highlight, trudging along with its frenetic beat and mind-bending crescendo.  “Heaven,” a song that conjures up its own shimmering atmosphere, filled Lincoln Hall with a warmth none of their other tunes could come close to.  “Perfect Skin,” an abnormal entry into the setlist, was relentless with its stop-go structure and the noise inoculated into each break in the song ripped through my being like a hot knife through butter.  This song could have sounded quite sloppy live but HEALTH is a band made of musical masterminds – they make noise make sense.

The new tunes did sound good live, but with so many electronic elements kicking and screaming in each song, it didn’t crossover to the live setting as vigorously as the older material.  Those key sounds that make each new track stand out so much were muddled in the mix, thus creating a paper thin sound that was hardly as tangible as what the band births in each of their older cuts.  “Stonefist” obviously sounded amazing and had people dancing for a few minutes instead of banging their heads.  “L.A. Looks” was likely the most uplifting moment of the night, seeing how it’s easily one of their most accessible songs.  My favorite, though, was “Salvia” as it’s one of the most accurate bridges between what appears to be two very different eras of HEALTH and it also had the same punch that it does on the album.

At the end of the day, the only gripe I have about how the new material was approached is this: there are too many artists phoning in performances featuring electronic sounds.  It’s easier to push a button and just let it all happen – but a band like HEALTH, I expected there to at least be a visible synth, some kind of controller or sampler with some pedals, anything to show us where these sounds were coming from.  That wasn’t the case and it was disappointing merely because I know how skilled the HEALTH guys are.  It would’ve been nice to just have those elements better represented visually somehow instead of happening in the form of what seemed to be a backing track.  All in all, the show was great and both acts churned out fantastic sets and I certainly look forward to seeing both Pictureplane and HEALTH again as soon as possible.


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