Braids at Rifflandia 2013

Here’s a review of Braids’ Metro Theatre performance at Rifflandia. Check out the original publication here.

I first fell under Braids’ spell at Rifflandia 2011, where they opened the show for Pepper Rabbit — a band I was then completely obsessed with. As good as Pepper Rabbit’s set was that night, and in spite of the sad, retrospective reality that it was to be the last time I’d ever get to see them live, Braids stole the show with their patented blend of sonic textures, peculiar rhythms, and soaring, otherworldly vocals. Braids lulled their captivated audience into a collective trance: undoubtedly, many who saw Braids in 2011 eagerly returned to Metro Studio last night for another taste.

Much has changed for Braids since 2011. The band’s debut album, Native Speaker, was nominated for a Polaris Prize, and while recording their latest release, Flourish//Perish, Braids decided to part ways with founding member Katie Lee. Flourish//Perish marks a radical departure for Braids, challenging those of us who fell in love with Native Speaker to keep up with the band’s ambitious musical impulses. Just as Radiohead’s quantum leap between Ok Computer and Kid A unsettled a well established fan base, Flourish//Perish, quickly sets to work in dismantling all expectations: at first the album seems like a cold and barren counterpoint to Native Speaker, but with last night’s performance at the Metro Studio a show comprised exclusively of these strange new songs, Braids proved that while they have changed drastically, they are no less beautiful.

The band took the stage at about 12;30 a.m. Lead singer Raphelle Standelle-Preston later divulged that she and the rest of the band had just got off a plane from Amsterdam, where they’d been on tour. But last night’s Rifflandia performance betrayed not the slightest sign of jetlag. Percussionist Austin Tufts took the helm of a strange kit — a hybrid of digital and acoustic drums — and quickly set to work laying an intricate foundation on which a stunningly ethereal soundscape would soon rest. At times, Tufts’ kick drum pedal seemed linked to the skull of bandmate Taylor Smith, who manically bobbed his head while pounding on a xylophone and providing an assortment of blips and bleeps. The eyes of the audience were undoubtedly drawn to Tufts, however, who effortlessly pounded out precise and syncopated rhythms without even breaking a sweat: impressive, seeing as theMetro’s temperature rivaled the surface of the sun.

One never would have guessed that the first half of Braids’ set was rife with technical difficulty until Standelle-Preston complained that her in-ear monitor was cutting in and out. After some scrambling to fix the issue the band embarked upon an amazing rendition of “Ebben,” which put all fears to rest. The standout moment of the evening came a few songs later, however, with Flourish//Perish standout track “In Kind.” As Standelle-Preston sang a mantra of sorts, first whispering, and later screaming that she’d “left her conscience in quotations”, those gathered at the Metro were disarmed by her tremendous vocal range — a very raw, and human voice in the midst of synthesized mayhem.

The evening ended with a rousing standing ovation, which brought Standelle-Preston to tears as she apologized for not having more songs to sing. Those of us fortunate enough to have been at the Metro last night carry the fortunate burden of having Rifflandia’s musical bar set insurmountably high thanks to Braids’ amazing performance; what a wonderful way to start off a weekend made of music.

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