To write about Liars is not easy. Not for me.
In a way the name is very appropriate. They lie, not literally, but they lie. If a band is represented by the music it plays, Liars are not representable because they never play the same music.
I can remember two of their concerts but there could well be some more and I just don’t link the different musical experiences to the same band playing.
The amount of music accessible through the net at present is so vast that a band to have recognition has to conform to a precise style, balancing the difficult equilibrium of being boring and being identifiable. Usually when artists want to depart from an expected style they use marketing tricks as “side project”, “solo project” or “old demos I thought it was the right moment to release”.
Liars were founded in Brooklyn, New York City, but they come from LA California. It’s already disorienting but… bear with me.
To date, they recorded 6 albums which span everything from dance to punk through electronica. And span the world. It is certainly not the first time artists like to explore different aspect of their creativity, David Bowie mastered this, it is less likely this happens nowadays.
Liars don’t master coherence, they master changeability. Liars record an album, tour it, get some following that, by the time the next album arrives are there to feel disoriented. Liars have already moved to something different.
Maybe this is the ultimate expression of artistic freedom but also the ultimate guarantee of fans alienation. It must be tagged as brave to say the least. I like brave bands, that’s why I dislike Mumford and Sons.
As David Bowie, the eclectic trio travels a lot to produce their music, looking for inspiration not only from other music but from places. Brooklyn was the set for Liars’ debut, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. Then they moved to the forests of New Jersey for the follow up, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. The third album was recorded abroad, in Berlin. It is a concept, why does Berlin inspires concept? (I want to read about this), Drum’s Not Dead. Unless Bowie, the German residency of Liars was not going to last for a trilogy, they came back home to Los Angeles to record Sisterworld, probably the most successful (and accessible) of their records.
To record WIXIW the latest, out few months ago, on tour tonight, they used an abandoned block in an industrial estate with no contact with the Ciy of Angels whatsoever. Probably a glimpse that even LA is becoming disorienting. The album that they are touring has more electronic than ever. The bass is mostly sampled, guitar is scarce and drums are resounding. They toured with Radiohead in the past and there is a clear Thom-York-ian influence in the songs.
I saw a Liars’ set at Portishead’s curated I’ll Be Your mirror ATP in July 2011. This four central photos are from that show. It was a big stage with a big audience and they surprised me with a set made of something that I would call more related to math-rock or geometric compositions. Maybe it inspired the palindrome used in the latest album title. I may be confused and surely I don’t remember well, but what I saw at the ATP had musically very little to do with what Liars played tonight in Cambridge.
When I arrive the Junction is empty. I don’t know if it is a consequence of the fans’ alienation, the economic crisis hitting even the rich Cambridge university students or a mistake in venue hire. There are less than 100 people around tonight, in a venue of a capacity of over 800. Liars will play Scala in London the day after, a venue of 1100, in a town 100 times bigger than Cambridge. It makes more sense.
I don’t know if it is this feeling of empty space that disorients the band for the first couple of songs. The concert struggles to take off. Angus Andrew starts on vocal with drummer Julian Gross on keys and Aaron Hemphill on keys. Then they swap throughout the following three songs. It looks as if they want to cover all the stage poses for the time slot I am photographying them, but that’s my megalomania. And I will shoot the entire set.
Angus Andrew is concentrated on the music and the more the gig progresses the more he spends time with eyes are closed and mind focused.
I am impressed by the rumbling drums, I absolutely didn’t remember neither from the record nor from the other show. There is an almost tribal beat that bring the few people to enjoy the extra space and even attempt to dance. The rhythm make me enjoy the electronic bits more than the 10 minutes I usually can stand this music. It’s a short set, just over the hour, but when I am back home post-editing photos I play WIXIW on spotify to double listen it. It is an album that I may have underrated because of that fans alienation syndrome. Maybe I was waiting for Sisterworld part 2. Big mistake. I’m not a Liars‘ fan, mild excuse.
Let’s start from a point. It is very bad photo etiquette to stand in a photo pit and raise your DSLR to take pictures. It should not be done. The photographers with you in the pit will have several pictures with hand+camera in the way which can ruin otherwise good frames. I am plenty of these, I bin them straight from the camera so can’t show any.
It is not good for fans to have the visual obscured by a arm and a big camera. It is disturbing to the band; the stage light don’t let the members to see the audience, a camera suddenly arising from nowhere to be 50cm from someone singing it’s not desirable.
Why photographers tend to raise cameras and shoot away from the viewfinder?
Simple, because the stage is higher than the photo pit, sometime much higher, and most concert photographs tend to have an annoying elevated perspective.
It also happen, and this Liars gig is the case, that bands members play behind keys and it is even more annoying. With the short depth of field of a lens at full aperture counterbalancing the lack of light, the bits coming from the back of keyboards look blurred dark stains. The player hands are often cut which is not the best contributions to composition.
To raise your hand to get the camera higher than the keyboards allowing it to frame the player and the keys helps the photo. As it helps to shoot frontal portraits.
I am Italian. We are infamous champions of bad etiquette, we ignore sensible (erm… all) rules and we are arrogant. I have to control my impulse in this situation because often I would really tend to go for the photo ignoring the world around me.
There are very rare occasions when the rule can be broken because the three disturbing conditions are absent.
- No other photographers in the pit: Being alone avoids the problem to get in the way of someone else.
- Empty venue: There was so much space around that the audience could move easily and wasn’t bothered by me at all.
- A singer that sings with eyes closed: He was not bothered by my presence (I was also allowed to shoot the entire show) and by my camera.
For some shots I raised the camera and portrayed the band from a different perspective.
Technically it is not easy. I don’t like live view, I miss the moment with the mirror shift causing the shutter delay. I prefer to go a bit wider and trust my experience going blindly. I miss some shots. Nevermind.
Be very precautious if you are trying.