Live Review: Moderat with Telefon Tel Aviv at Showbox 5/24/16

all photos by Dave Lichterman

When a supergroup becomes a band, magic happens. For German electronic figureheads Modeselektor and Apparat, their work together as Moderat qualifies as a full time gig. Now that they’re three albums deep, it’s no secret that these three gentlemen enjoy working together and challenging each other creatively. But with this year’s third Moderat record and the subsequent tour, Moderat is, more than ever before, a powerful statement unto itself. With Apparat taking a strong position as the face of the band, Sebastian Szary and Gernot Bronsert flanking him on both sides, the group hardly needs visuals at their shows. The synergy between these three is unmistakable, and now more than ever before, Moderat truly feels larger than the sum of its parts. Together with Chicago electronic veteran Telefon Tel Aviv, Moderat put down an excellent, very sold-out set at Showbox at the Market and left jaws on the floor. Even better than their last appearance in Seattle, if Moderat continue on this trajectory, we are going to new to find new levels of comprehension.

Tracking the output of Joshua Eustis is a full time job. While Telefon Tel Aviv hasn’t seen a fresh release since 2009’s Immolate Yourself, Eustis has spent the interim with two Sons of Magdalene records, all three Black Queen records, and appearances on Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks and Puscifer’s last two LPs. While The Black Queen’s Fever Daydream dropped in January, Eustis has a new project out in a few weeks with Second Woman, his project alongside Turk Dietrich of the phenomenal New Orleans shoegaze outfit Belong. Somewhere in all of that, Eustis has the time to tour with Moderat, and given the quality of the set presented tonight, we are sure glad he did. Touring with Moderat means you are no freshman contender, and that couldn’t be further from the truth for Eustis. His moody, writhing set scaled mountains with its range and tenacity. On stage, Eustis mans the chaos with a brutal calm. Getting his rare chance to see him out of the studio was a treat.

Telefon Tel Aviv:

Last time Moderat rolled through town off the back of II, they played the Neptune and brought a giant cube of light with them. Multiplying the dimensions of the multi-projector 3D setups of DJs like Flying Lotus and brining things to extraterrestrial levels. Split on either side of the cube, the band did their thing, blasting through both their records with cool, keen precision. And yet, the distance between Apparat and Modeselektor was felt, both on stage and in execution. Now, not so much. Moderat used to be the kind of band that might benefit from a giant light cube. With unfamiliar listeners interspersed in the audience, it always helps to soften the edge of rough new sonic terrain with a bit of visual distraction. But now, Moderat has no need and no time for distraction. This year’s III is a record that bleeds with emotion, emotion that soars over their electronic landscapes and taps directly into the psyche with juxtaposed visions of detachment and intimacy. This is the type of stuff that requires undistracted spoon feeding, and that’s exactly what we got with Moderat’s latest live incarnation.

The band enter in darkness as III burner “Ghostmother” begins to build. As Apparat takes to the microphone, the mood of the room swells with pleasure. The band is backlit softly, only accenting their shapes moving across sequencers and synthesizers and drum pads, creating an increasing wave of immersion. All of it is reined fearlessly by Apparat, whose vocal leads the track onwards with ferocity. But as the song fades, the band dives into a piece that lets all three members play on an even field – Moderat classic “A New Error”. The crowd loses it, swaying to the triplet build for seven minutes straight, letting expectations fall to the wayside, following the guided meditation towards its peak. Moderat work back and forth with the crowd for about six songs, alternating between the vocal-heavy material from III and the heavy electronic landscapes of prior tunes, until they are positive that they have the audience’s full conviction. At this point, it’s time to let loose completely. “No. 22″, “Bad Kingdom“, and “The Fool” all follow to raucous applause. It’s clear here what exactly it is that gives Moderat their immense power – it’s their precise balance between electronic and club music awareness and their sensibility about the human condition. There is a delicacy to their work that cuts through even the heaviest bass, and it’s this that makes them one of the best electronic acts you can see.

Moderat:

III is out now on Mute.

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