Monday, May 23, 2016
Fat White Family Live in Portland, OR.
Fat White Family takes the stage unceremoniously, but even as the band mills around and soundchecks there is something about them that hints at the energy they possess. Not showmanship exactly, but rather an underlying sense of belonging in that space. When they launch into their set singer Lias Saoudi dives into his performance headlong. Usually with singers the act of vocalizing involves a certain level of balance where the voice hovers along and is hopefully pleasing on some level. With Saoudi, it is more about falling at top speed. He seems to be pressed against the limits of what his voice and body are capable of, and it is thrilling to see. Meanwhile, guitarist and primary musical arranger Saul Adamczewski has an awareness of the whole stage and is one of those rare musicians that can nudge a nearly unpalatable collage of sound into something fascinating without glossing it over too much.
The band wears their influences on their sleeves and even have a song called "I Am Mark E. Smith" which is an interesting play on originality. Still, at times when their sound and stage movements are traceable to past artists, it never comes across as being overly nostalgic. I find the idea of one musician claiming the identity of another in such a way to be hilarious and in this case it is also deceptively original. The fact that said musician is Mark E. Smith is too perfect, as he is an artist who once wrote a song about himself writing a song (How I Wrote Elastic Man) and the Fat Whites homage takes it to a new level. A lot of their other lyrics are on morally questionable ground, and it will surely be offensive to some, but keep in mind the comedy of Louie C.K. is on equal or even more questionable ground and he is popular and accepted on a mainstream level. The comparison is pretty abstract, but in both cases, you begin to see the intent of the performer as you grow acquainted with their work.
The band as a whole creates a seemingly unstoppable live force that barrels along while being simultaneously pulled apart from within. It feels unhealthy and a little self indulgent, but also represents something familiar and human. On some level it is like a failed meditation in which your subconscious goes chattering away and lifting up stones to see what is crawling beneath. Despite this, it never seems to wallow or become depressing. When you see them it feels like you are a part of what is happening and I left the show feeling reconnected rather than emotionally drained or exhausted as I often am after a concert. There is a manic energy at a Fat White Family show and you can tell that the band are completely invested in taking the performance to some strange elevated place.