Live Review: White Williams, HEALTH @ Chop Suey 1/26/08

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review by Eric Mahollitz
photos by Ron Henry

Club Pop!, a regular installment and all-ages event at Chop Suey, is always a sight to see. The night often begins with a DJ set while the dance floor grows with a younger crowd who come dressed to express and impress. Eventually, the bar and dance floor fill to abundant yet comfortable capacity, while folks grow sweaty and eager for the main acts to appear, as in the past VHS or Beta, Walter Meego, and Tim Sweeney of DFA have been.

Last Saturday, when the DJ-ing stopped and L.A. quartet HEALTH began their soundcheck, usually an occurrence that garners little attention from most crowds, an obvious change took place in the room. Drummer Benjamin Miller drew all eyes with his long hair, thick goatee and stocky build, and even his simple preparations were enough to grab everyone’s attention. The set started with abrupt and spaced-out drum hits anyone familiar with their self-titled album is used to, a maneuver that manages the sudden and sporadic transitions between tribal percussive flourishes and segments of synth-laden noise rock. Any attempts to upstage Miller’s drumming would have been fruitless, but the other three members gave it a go. The guitar playing proved to be one of the greatest reasons why people pick up guitars in the first place — each strum occurring as though a pulse through the player’s body, requiring every ounce of energy to create the dissonant but somehow toe-tapping sounds. And that is what ruled over HEALTH’s set. The progressions and changes were so well handled by the collective that the eerie monotone howls and disturbed synths were not enough to shock but more than enough to compel. A big part of the changes in sound also had to do with the lead vocalist’s use of dual microphones, one producing the pleasant yet foreboding psychedelia and the other giving rise to unyielding screams. The set was short, but as evidenced by their uninterrupted album, they have no qualms with chugging through a lot of songs in a short period of time. And without the use of visuals, their performance created a lasting image of an up-and-coming band worth every positive word I can spare.

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Headliner White Williams took the stage after a short DJ interlude to add some laid back new wave to the mix of dance music played throughout the night. Behind him, visuals were projected, depicting an art house film full of slashers, transvestites and an unexpected masturbatory scene — this from a guy who used to perform from behind a screen and not in front of one. Williams’ band, appearing as if from the era of which their inspiration comes, wasted no time jumping into hot tracks from the recent album Smoke like Headlines, In the Club and New Violence. with his close-cropped hair and skinny frame, Williams looked like a young though less dramatic David Byrne, leading his band through the progression of the album. Stage antics were kept to a minimum during the straight forward performance, but the ’80s MTV music video dance moves were in full effect. The new wave art-rock of the opening numbers launched into a new wave/disco hybrid that took the floor from head nodding to booty shaking. Perhaps that’s just what Williams wants as he becomes more comfortable being stage center — to give the visual folks entertainment at the rear of the stage and to let the people in the pit dance their socks off. Either way, it appeared from his performance that he’ll be getting a lot of attention in the foreseeable future.

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Put simply, the evening could be summed up as an everyman’s dance-a-thon where no matter what dance god the attendants prayed to, their call was answered. Looking ahead, White Williams (MySpace) is touring the states for the next couple of weeks while HEALTH (MySpace) appears to be touring for the rest of their lives. HEALTH has already confirmed that they’ll return to Chop Suey on March 6 with Crystal Castles.

For a taste, here’s a remix from HEALTH’s “Crimewave” as done by Crystal Castles:

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and video footage of White Williams performing “The Shadow” that night:

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