HEALTH's new record Death Magic has a pretty significant lead up to it. After working on a third album for some time, the band got an opportunity to work on the soundtrack for Rockstar's Max Payne 3, which they knocked out of the park in every plausible way. The extra time focused on production and extra budget allowed the band to return to their third record with fresh eyes, taking the time to make something equally challenging and enticing - a far cry from the devastating and divisive noise statements that are their first two records. But the new sounds left a lot of fans in a state of questioning - would this new taste for pop cadence tame the HEALTH we know and love as one of the loudest, most brutal live acts around? Well, as my ears are probably still ringing as you read this, the reassuring answer is: hell no. In fact, with Death Magic, HEALTH may be entering the most brilliant phase of their live career. While more balanced than ever before, HEALTH's latest live rendering is an overwhelmingly powerful endeavor, and the meek need not attend. Together at Neumos with Pictureplane and Ian Hicks of Soft Metals, HEALTH set the bar for noise levels at Neumos for the next decade.It's been a hot minute since the excellent Captured Tracks dark-wave act Soft Metals dropped some new material, but in the meantime, Ian Hicks, the production mastermind behind the band, is serving us some steaming hot electro magic on the road with HEALTH. Hicks kicked things off at Neumos with a continuous, built from scratch, old school type electro set. Over the course of his 25 minute set, the BPM never moved, but the drum patterns and the effervescent goth textures over top shifted and weaved in perfect dark majesty. Hicks's solo work is not unlike his work alongside Patricia Hall in Soft Metals - lots of chilly, opaque coloration and plenty of brooding to go around. But here, with a dedication to live manipulation and not taking the easy way out with any backing tracks, we find Hicks in his most elemental state. This is Soft Metals stripped to the very core, to see the throbbing gristle of the beating heart inside. Given the shimmering heights of production complexity the night would reach with HEALTH in a few hours, Hicks was the perfect act to kick things off right.
Pictureplane and HEALTH go way back. Travis Edegy has been making freaky, dark noise pop for about the same amount of time HEALTH has, just on the other coast. A great Pictureplane remix of "Die Slow" showed up on Disco 2, the band's fantastic Get Color remix record (literally every great synth act of 2010 on one project), and a year later, HEALTH covered Pictureplane's hit "Goth Star", adding lyrics and taking the size to XXXL levels. Furthermore, it's only more fitting to see the two pairing on this tour, as Pictureplane also dropped a new LP in 2015, with Technomancer. Tonight, Edegy did his thing in full form, decked out in an all black ensemble and dropping cut after cut of pounding dark techno while lizard people conspiracy videos played on the screen behind him. It was evident that quite a few members of the audience had shown up tonight specifically to see Pictureplane, as it's been a while since he's made his way to Seattle (he opened for Crystal Castles at the Moore back in 2013). As Travis kept the party going on stage, the crowd was more than ready to respond on the floor with raucous dancing and a couple attempts at starting a mosh pit. Beginning to end, Pictureplane put on his quintessential show.
For this tour, HEALTH's typical four man lineup was scaled down to four, with production guru Jupiter Keyes absent from the mix. This left all bass and drum machine duties to general crowd hype machine John Famiglietti (seriously, who wants to watch someone hit a button on an MPC when you could be watching them hit a button on an MPC and doing a metal hair flips?). Meanwhile, Jake Duzsik handled the usual vocals and guitars and Benjamin Jared Miller did his usual pummeling of the drums. The three handled duties worthy of a Spartan phalanx, and made the audience beg for mercy wherever possible. Kicking things off with all the power of a hurricane, burning through classics "Zoothorns" and "Crimewave" before launching into "Die Slow", all before offering Death Magic's most punishing track, "Men Today". If you've ever been overwhelmed by the levels of calamity found inside the tiny plastic packaging of HEALTH records, you haven't seen anything until you've seen BJ Miller do it all live. Truly, this guy is an evil mastermind on the drum set. In the older, more cannibalistic HEALTH material, he leads the pack as Jake and John attempt to keep up. Later in the set as the production starts to amp up, he works in tandem with John while Jake gives us a melody to find shelter in above.
The mixture of Death Magic's pop aesthetic and the old records' furious soundscapes couldn't have been more rewarding. Between sing-a-longs were unsingable bursts of spontaneous combustion, making both the soaring melodies and tribal throwdowns all the more striking. Finally, closing out the set with some of the new record's most accessible material ("Life" in particular), the band moved into Disco 2 classic "USA Boys" before exiting the stage. Truly, this could have been the end of the night, and everyone would have gone home completely content. And yet, this was not the end. Perhaps it was only just to prove that they'll never be tamed. Perhaps it was only to leave the audience with jaws on the floor and nothing left to say but thank you. But for whatever the reason, HEALTH returned to the stage for a thirty second encore: the impossible to top noise pipe bomb "Girl Attorney". In perfect syncopation, Jake, John, and BJ flew threw the track flawlessly and left without a word. This is HEALTH as they are meant to be seen, with the dazzling new perspective of Death Magic, but not once without forgetting the furious roots from which they came. Live is the way to see it, and thankfully for us, Neumos got a full serving of that here tonight.
Death Magic is out now on Loma Vista.
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