So I raced over to the Rhythm Room after work Monday night to catch about 40 minutes’ worth of Ratatat’s set, which was enough time to form an opinion and settle a debate I’ve had with myself about one of life’s most puzzling questions: Do I like Ratatat?
The answer: not so much. Classics, the group’s latest release on XL, was doing just enough to keep me interested. Truth is, I’m a hard sell when it comes to all-instrumental albums (unless we’re talking straight jazz, of course). I like my indie rock with words. Still, the beats on Classics lured me right into that mouse trap of a live show.
After about two songs, my eyes glazed over – which might have had a little something to do with the stage fog overkill. I wanted to like Ratatat. I really did. But, at its core, this is a jam band masked by the electronic label, which means the sweet-banged indie kids have an excuse to pretend to dance.
Each song started the same way – with a taut, crisp and appealing beat – before devolving into this somewhat obnoxious cacophony of blinding lights, stage fog and Steve Vai-esque love-making to the fretboard. As if your senses weren’t paralyzed already, a projector played a running visual show behind the band, sometimes in sync with the music, which at least suggests a form of choreography to it all.
All of the superflous stage gadgetry – fog, glaring lights, visuals – is less a complement to the music than it is a distraction. What you really had to ask yourself is if it weren’t for all the accompanying bells and whistles, could the music stand on its own and engage the audience?
The guitar playing of lead man Mike Stroud (at least he seemed to be the lead man) comes off as overly ironic – head-banging with his long hair, windmills (a la Pete Townshend) and back turned playing to his amp. (Maybe someone has a crush on Jim James?) Then when he talked to the audience he did so with echo effects still on his mic, which made it impossible to hear what he was saying. Ha. Funny. I guess.
It’s possible, as Annie and I discussed afterward, that we’re getting older and with that comes impatience. Even Built to Spill, one of my favorite bands, can annoy me with Doug Martsch’s jam-band noodling on stage. But at least I have something else to hold onto there: words, lyrics, meanings. I didn’t feel any sort of connection like that with Ratatat.