On my bike ride over to the Urban Lounge to catch the Liars show, I got a text from my friend Matt Crane that simply said, “Missing good rap.” I knew nothing about the opening act for Liars, except that it was a rapper who calls himself Cadence Weapon and that, according to Matt, he is good. When I got there, the first thing I noticed was that the creepy beat and sounds his DJ/synth jockey was making sounded like a remix of Liars material—it may have been because they were using some of Liars’ equipment for their set. Flowing from chill talk-rap to aggressive yelling to singing and back again, Cadence Weapon got the half-full house of rock nerds bobbing their heads. If Kid Cudi were a member of OFWGKTA, he would sound how Cadence Weapon sounded. The emcee had immense energy and rocked like he was playing one of his aforementioned house parties in Montreal, jumping and shouting like a punk rocker as he yelled “Welcome to my loft party!” over a crunk beat, with the small but loving crowd screaming back “PARTY!” in response.
After Cadence Weapon’s set, I was sufficiently pumped up for Liars. Not that I needed to be pumped up—from first hearing They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top when I was 19, to devouring each weird addition to their discography, I have been perpetually pumped on Liars. In ’07, I walked out of my graveyard-shift job and sprinted to Urban to see them play a raw and sweaty show. As I waited anxiously to recreate this ’07 moment, the greenroom door was flung open as the Liars’ roadie struggled to escape singer Angus’ aggressive humping—a ritual that I was probably not meant to see. “I just saw the singer humping some dude,” I told my friend Jac. “Oh,” he said gravely.
Just then, some creepy and crackly old cabaret music blared over the speakers and the band walked unceremoniously onto the stage, cutting the cabaret and building a weird, ambient texture heavy on bass and synth, with Thom Yorke-style electronic chatter creeping into the mix—obviously material from their new record, WIXIW. As the band faded into “Octagon,” a mix of the affected drumming, vocal droning and unearthly sounds found on Drum’s Not Dead plus more Yorke electrochatter, I realized how serious they looked. Seeing them in ’07, they were a crazy noisy rock band, but as they played through most of WIXIW, I could tell they were doing work—dressed in suits and pensively shaping sounds into caveman-from-the-future songs, the trio seemed more like mad conductors than rock musicians.
Now under the spell of WIXIW, the crowd was taken off guard when all three Liars stopped and screamed in unison, marking the start of “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Hear Attack” from Drum’s Not Dead in a move from precise to primal. Guitarist/synth player Aaron Hemphill joined in the drumming and I couldn’t stop myself from flailing around. After getting out all their insane energy, the band went back to WIXIW world, playing a haunting synth interlude, which led into the title track from their new record. On wax, “Wixiw” is an uneasy and nervously romantic groove but with Julian Gross pounding the skins and sample pad and Angus smashing a cymbal to bits as he sings, the song is heavy and immersing, augmenting the fury of the Trench album with more electricity and more darkness. Then the band brought the vibe down a notch with “Ill Valley Prodigies” from WIXIW, a slow found-sound and fingerpicked guitar melody, laced with Angus’ somber, eyes-closed singing that sucked the audience into his trance.
Then, like a splash of hot oil in the face, we were hit with the caustic surf guitar and cymbal crash of Sisterworld’s “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant.” The crowd members immediately started slamming into each other as our long-forgotten punk instincts took over, and the band took advantage of our heightened energy as they moved into the dance-punk club banger, “Brats,” from WIXIW. It was as if the Liars from 2001 met the Liars from 2012 and made a song together—too bad nobody knew how to dance, because this would have been the time for it. The climax of the show, though, happened as the guys played the single from WIXIW, “No.1 Against the Rush.” The album version is probably my favorite Liars song ever, so I already had a shit-eating grin as the programmed beat started and Julian switched from drums to bass, Aaron tweaked knobs and layered weird synth and guitar sounds, and Angus crooned his serious croon over his keyboard. The crowd frantically tapped their heels to the steady one-two beat and rising wall of synths. Then, toward the end of the song, Julian dashed back behind his kit and built a live drumbeat over the drum track, stacking the song on top of itself, building into straight-faced ecstatic beast of the original song that you could feel in your guts—it was in-fucking-credible.
After such a rapturous performance, the band gave the audience a palate-cleansing blast of eardrum tearing noise leading into a taste of shrieking dance-punk from their first album, and I pretended that I was at one of Liars’ NYC shows in the early 2000s. Then, way too soon, Angus said a polite, Aussie “thank you” into his mic and the trio stumbled offstage. The audience was surprised—our heads spinning around with idiotic, confused looks on our faces. We weren’t finished yet, so people started chanting, “LI-ARS!” “LI-ARS!” demanding the obvious encore song or two. So the band stomped back onto the stage, settled into their laboratory, and flung us into “Plaster Casts of Everything” from their ’07 self-titled album. “I wanna run away, I wanna bring you too! I wanna run away, I wanna bring you too!” screamed Angus over the repetitive guitar riff and drum beat as a pleasant stream of cold beer sprayed all over me and half the crowd. The song ended, the band dashed into the green room to change shirts before their after-show cigarettes, and the audience reluctantly wandered out of the club at just half-past midnight. The show was too quick—but with all killer and no filler, those guys played one of the most solid and exciting sets I can remember seeing. I could have stood there and watched them play the whole show again, and I hate standing. Liars, and WIXIW for that matter, has set my standard for live shows and records really fucking high, and I’d be surprised if someone else impresses me more than this show and this record did. I wixiw would have been there to see it too, man.