It’s all about the delivery. When I read the press release for the new Matmos album, The Marriage Of True Minds, and discovered that it was the result of parapsychological experiments in which the concept of the album was projected onto the minds of test subjects, I wasn’t sure how seriously I should take the band, or more importantly, how seriously they took themselves.
Yet when the members of Matmos are on stage discussing the fruition of the album, with a shrug of the shoulders and facial expressions that acknowledge how ludicrous the idea sounds, the truth becomes clear. The band is not comprised of avant-garde artists, but mischievous alchemists. The fact that this live demonstration took place within the confines of the historic Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery only enhanced the feeling that this was less of a show and more of a tongue-in-cheek performance art piece.
To emphasize that fact, actual music wasn’t played until three or four minutes into the show. Matmos instead opened with what appeared to be a recreation of the experiment that lead to the creation of The Marriage Of True Minds, with a member of support act and backing band Horse Lords standing in as the muttering test subject.
They then flowed straight into “Very Large Green Triangles,” the closest thing the new album has to a single and a track that best highlights the band’s ability to build something genuinely musical out of the most unlikely embryo. The only way to go after that is in the other direction completely. Introducing their cover of Buzzcocks’ “ESP” as a love song, Matmos shifted from left-field trance music to doom metal with a slow chugging riff that felt a lot more convincing than mere pastiche.
The combination of the backing band, the visual accompaniment (including a video of what appeared to be a liposuction operation to back a song about, what else, liposuction), and their whole box of tricks, it is clear that the strength of Matmos is as a live act much more so than as a studio band.
What can sound plain weird on record actually makes an odd sort of sense on stage, as the band members pull yoga poses, sample the sound of a balloon being rubbed and plucked, and add layers to a song by blowing air bubbles into a tray of water. Music is their chosen medium, but in reality, Matmos seems to be an extended exercise in the texture of sound. Melodies do surface but are secondary to the method behind their madness.
The band is impossible to classify under any particular genre. In the course of an hour, concert attendees were treated to the aforementioned doom metal, trance, dollops of psychedelia, and full on bass-driven dance songs. At times the band looked almost as surprised as the audience with what was being produced, and indeed that element of improvisation does add a certain thrill, with the knowledge that something could go wrong at any moment, and occasionally did, as the sporadic shrill of unintentional feedback suggested that the two men were leaping before they looked at times.
So in the end, The Masonic Lodge was the ideal setting for a show like this: an atmospheric music venue that is not really a music venue for an atmospheric band that doesn’t exactly create music. Matmos is an enigma, one that has been fascinating audiences for fifteen years and that continues to cook up new ideas from somewhere in Baltimore (where the two members reside). On the evidence of Monday’s show, their appetite for exploration has yet to be sated, and seeing where they go next will always be fun.
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