Seeing Memory Tapes play at Johnny Brenda’s this past Wednesday reminded me that hearing a band or musician play live can be such a unique experience from hearing them on record. As a concert goer, you expect a musician’s songs to be changed at least a bit in the live performance, or at the very least you expect to see how they’re played. This seems especially true with electronic music. At a show you see how the musician innovates on the sound immediately with mixers and turntables rather than from studio overdubs. This could have been the method that Memory Tapes’ Dayve Hawke employed, but instead he played guitar with a bassist and drummer, which is interesting given that he records and produces all the music on his albums himself. I thought this might be just an arbitrary choice before the show, but the band was so strong and cohesive that it made the songs all the more enjoyable.
After goth-synth Philadelphia band Instamatic and a short DJ set, two screens descended from the ceiling onto which were projected kaleidoscopic images. While Hawk and the band set up, the DJ spun a prolonged note that resonated for a bit too long, inciting a curt “Yo dude. Where’s the spaceship landing?” from Hawk. I got to chuckle a bit before they broke into an impressive version of “Yes I Know” from Player Piano, which sounds downbeat on record but came across radiant and much more expressive with the three playing together live. Right off the bat, anyone could hear how strong and collected the band sounded, and how well they played off each other. They kept the flow going with loud, big versions of “Wait in the Dark” and “Offers”. Everything about the music was confrontational and right up front, including Hawk’s voice, which shot through the speakers as loud as anything else (a big difference from his vocals and the instruments on record). They played two I didn’t recognize, then “This is Our Life” and “Trance Sisters,” which amplified the desperation and disaster of the song, rendering it all the more cataclysmic. They closed with a slow-building version of (their now-classic?) “Bicycle,” which turned into a bombastic dance number that got the whole crowd groovin’.
In short, I liked the record a lot, but the show totally sold me on how good Memory Tapes is. Hawk is a special kind of musician because he does all the writing himself, but it really made such a difference to hear everything played together. The already excellent melodies became fire and electricity with the group’s performance, and I think that might be just the result of the cooperation (or competition) natural between musicians. It’s a credit to Hawke that he can do both—play everything together and make a show that powerful. This isn’t to say that live music is always superior to music on record, but I think it showcases a different type of musical skill. Hawk constructs and records memorable melodies demonstrating his skill as a composer. However, he can also translate that into the kind of performance that shocks, which certainly places him as a forerunner in the category of “artists to watch.”