Just how far can a band push their sound without completely losing their audience? At least two groups with new albums this year are testing that notion. British band Editors, who have torn up the British charts with their moody atmospheric guitar rock, much in line with the Joy Division-to-Interpol trajectory, and NYC’s Yeasayer, who turned many a ‘head with their hippie jam-meets-indie rock world-fusion jams, have both turned away from their predominately guitar driven music, on In This Light and On This Evening and Odd Blood respectively, toward a keyboard-centric sound.
Would fans turn with or away from the bands? Albums sales are sure to tell one part of the story and their live shows another. I recently had the chance to witness first hand how Seattle fans would react to the new material when Editors performed live at the Showbox at the Market last Friday.
Having seen them play several times before, the last time they were at the Showbox in 2008 and twice before at Chop Suey, I didn’t need to guess how they would sound on the songs from their first two albums. And there were indeed plenty of songs from 2005′s The Back Room and 2007′s An End Has a Start mixed throughout the set. The filled room throbbed with ecstatic dancers as quickly as the opening lines to hits like “Bones,” “Camera,” “Rooks,” “Racing Rats,” and “Lights” could be heard. Though the band claimed to be a little rusty at first as it was the first night of their U.S. tour, their years of experience playing these songs to even much larger crowds made the emotional delivery seem like breathing.
However, it was obvious that the audience was unfamiliar with the new songs, which seemed to blow over like a still breeze. But if the new songs seemed much slower to please, it was in large part because they were much more slowly played. By comparison to the Editors’ already moody repertoire, “You Don’t Know Love,” “The Boxer,” and other new tracks seemed almost doleful, were it not for singer Tom Smith’s onstage theatrics. (That is not a man to sit or stand still!) Because he was so into these songs, the crowd eventually go into them too... though not nearly to the ecstatic energy when they played “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors” or the encore’s “Munich.”
Perhaps anticipating that response, the band was sure to alternate songs, rarely playing even two new songs in a row. While the interchange kept the energy level up -- as there were never more than 5 minutes when the crowd wasn’t yelling out the lyrics and pumping their hands in the air -- it also more dramatically contrasted the newer songs. It was hard not to imagine oneself cruising the Autobahn listening to Kraftwerk or Neu! Yeah, they’re that different! So much so that “guitarist Chris Urbanowicz” was really “keyboardist Chris Urbanowicz,” leaving his trademark Rickenbacker hanging from his back during the new songs.
Yet despite the more apparent moodiness and Krautrock leanings, Tom Smith’s deep emotive vocals never wavered, and just as steadfast, the fans held on to his every word. If the band’s future were ever in question due to their new musical exploration, the explosive response to the new album’s first single, “Papillon,” should be proof enough that Editors have many years to come of making great music that their fans will enjoy.
Dan Muller: “These two guys were really cool and let me have access to the front of the stage for the first three songs of the Editors’ set. They were huge fans who weren’t old enough to attend the last show two years ago. I noticed them later, singing along to every song! Thanks, gentlemen!”