As often happens when you are about to watch a particularly great band for the first time – having loved and listened to their songs so many times, knowing each note of every melody and every carefully-crafted crackle by heart – the idea of actually seeing them live can be somewhat daunting. Worries that some of the soft subtleties that can transform an album from mediocre to magical will be lost in a live environment and a fear that the band won’t play your favourite songs can make for an agonising wait – when in reality all you should feel is excitement.
For me Autolux are one such band that incite this irrational fear. Both their debut Future Perfect and recent release Transit Transit are examples of the most perfect lo-fi, shoegazey songs, both wonderfully uplifting and at the same time dreamy and downbeat. As I enter The Relentless Garage, it’s fair to say that I am nervous and excited in equal amounts. Luckily support band The Berg Sans Nipple are mid-set and their blend of synths, samplers and dual drumming make for the perfect distraction. Taking the typical face-off stance of electro pairings such as worriedaboutsatan and Fuck Buttons, the heavily-bearded French-American duo are both battering drums as I walk in, and this continues for most of their remaining time on-stage. Together they fuse an array of avant-pop with predominantly instrumental rhythmic riffs, and their electronic offerings act as an alternative, yet exciting support for the comparatively understated Autolux.
The gap between the moment The Berg Sans Nipple leave the stage and the second Autolux appear – complete with matching all-black outfits and similarly silver taped instruments – is loaded with anticipation. One audience member declares loudly that he has only ever seen Autolux in his dreams. The ripples of excitement in the now tightly-packed venue provide testament to the band’s strong fan base and the fact that the LA-based trio rarely tour the UK. Tonight is one of only two UK dates and there is a collective feeling amongst the crowd that this is a somewhat special show.
Having listened to their latest album constantly since its release, it’s strange to hear the soft notes of album closer ‘Science of Imaginary Solutions’ as the set opener. Anyone in the audience unfamiliar with Autolux must have got the impression that drummer Carla Azar was the band’s lead singer, as this song features her sole soft, breathy soprano vocals. In reality the vocals fall mostly to bassist Eugene Goreshter, although guitarist Greg Edwards also sings from time to time. On record their combined voices are androgynous and often blur into one, which makes for occasionally unidentifiable yet lusciously blended harmonies. On-stage it’s clear who sings and when – whether individually or in close three-part harmony on song like of ‘High Chair’ – proving that the band’s tight and emotionally-lyrical vocals are the binding ingredient in all of their music.
Flanked by the two guitarists, Azar drums with both force and grace. Watching her play is mesmerising – as she thrashes her kit with such commotion, variously manipulating maracas, an analogue drum machine and a keyboard – and you have to wonder just how she manages to do so whilst singing in a flawless, uninterrupted manner. As well as the constant buzz of distortion, highlighted by the visions of both guitarists bashing their instrument’s bodies towards their amps, loop pedals are used to great effect during Autolux’s set, particularly during the gaps in between songs. Save for one technical glitch mid-set, these instrumental interludes are executed in a seamless fashion, and make for a highly polished production. Another technical difficulty is resolved when what originally resembles silver ribbons randomly tied around mic stands and amps suddenly erupt into collections of fairy lights, enshrouding the stage in a more ethereal glow fitting to Autolux’s discordant, shoegazey songs.
On record, many of Autolux’s songs are muted and subtle, the percussion providing pace, and a soft and breathy vocal. On-stage the likes of ‘Census’ and ‘The Bouncing Wall’ are transformed; the guitars are loud and distorted, the drums rolling and thumping and bass lines thundering. It’s exhilarating, and although this increased amplification adds a new dimension to their songs, it by no means undermines the recorded counterpart’s delicate dynamics. Likewise many of the songs are fleshed out for their live incarnations, with extended versions of ‘Audience No. 2’ and ‘Robots In The Garden’, which also allows the band to switch instruments mid-song.
One of these moments comes during second song ‘High Chair’, as Edwards slings his guitar over his back and kneels down to play on the keys. Later, he will place himself on a stool, and softly bash out the predominantly piano-based melodies of ‘Spots’, before the trio plunge into fan-favourite ‘Subzero Fun’.
The band close their set with ‘Headless Sky’, its distinctive repetitive bass line thundering softly behind the vocals. As the song draws to an end, Edwards leaves the stage silently, pint in hand and plectrum between teeth. The remaining pair continue without him, and the audience witness Goreshter suddenly spring to life as he uncharacteristically thrashes around the stage, almost knocking his mic stand over in the process before the duo join Edwards backstage.
There are a few significant song omissions tonight – notably ‘Sugarless’ and ‘Kissproof’ – and I automatically assume that these would have been held back for the encore. I am wrong and not alone in thinking that the band’s choice of two lesser known, slower songs for their finale is a slightly odd choice, as the baffled mumbling that surrounds me as I leave the venue proves. Azar is the last on stage, continuing a drum solo that echoes around The Relentless Garage, almost as loud as the audience’s applause. Before he leaves the stage, Goreshter acknowledges the band’s prolonged absence and their apparent performance trepidation, saying “Thanks – we haven’t played here in a while, so we weren’t sure what to expect”.
Luckily, and not unsurprisingly, my initial worries were unfounded, and by playing a set composed of an equal measure of both albums, as well as displaying faultless vocals and seamless song transitions, Autolux executed a perfect performance. I’m just hoping that next time they return it will be sooner and with a few more dates thrown in. If there is one thing that this gig (and the crowd’s non-stop applause) proved: there’s clearly a lot of love for Autolux outside the US.