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March 7, 2011 | by  | in Music |
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The Books at SFBH, Saturday 26 February

I have to warn you, the following is incredibly biased. I’ve been in love with The Books since I first heard them. Tickets were bought almost immediately, hopes were raised, anticipation had killed, and the band fulfilled and surpassed all expectation.

But first thing, first, The Books are a strange band. Many people argue The Books are ‘unclassifiable,’ but this just detracts from the fact that the music is just plain incredible. Combining folk instrumentation with the power of sampling, sequencing and signal processing, The Books give a surprisingly restrained sound. The vocalist and guitarist Nick Zammuto has said he attempts to create an ‘egoless’ voice, which in practical terms means he wants his voice to have no discernible features or personality of any kind, however this description could easily be extended to the rest of their music. There is a sense of anonymousness to their sound, the lyrical content doesn’t sound personal or earnest but the production does. Meanwhile their beats (when they have beats) and textures are made out of sounds ranging from guitar to obscure self-spiritualizing videotapes from the 1980’s.

First up was Seth Frightening, who took the role of support act from Grayson Gilmour alter-ego Siamese due to a broken finger. Seth Frightening is always a pleasure to watch but it could have been louder, I could barely hear it over the general bar noise. Sean’s music has changed so much since I first saw him play Rockquest in 2007. His style has arrived somewhere between Nick Drake and Whitehouse. While this has to be one of the stranger aesthetic combinations, it somehow works really well.

It was interesting that The Books have a new member, or at least a new live member. I can’t find his name anywhere on the internet, but he helped fill out the sound a bit by providing violin and some of the more difficult guitar parts. The opening track of the night was ‘Group Autogenics’, which is the first track from the new album, The Way Out. The song was joined with an amusing film of middle-aged men lip-synching the samples played in the song (such as: “You may just possibly detect from my voice that I am Irish, and now I leap forward in time!”), which caused a lot of laughter in the audience. At this point I had assumed that maybe they would play the album in its entirety. While that would have been amazing anyway, I was both surprised and pleased when they played ‘Tokyo’ from The Lemon of Pink, which was executed perfectly by their new guitarist (on the actual album, the guitar was performed by a computer with sequencing software which gave it a glitchy kind of sound – it would have been a very difficult thing to pull off live). Other highlights included ‘An Owl with Knees’, ‘Smells Like Content’ and ‘Take Time’, which feature on Lost and Safe and The Lemon of Pink respectively. But also ‘Classy Penguin’, which has only been released on The Books’ Play All DVD.

What I found particularly rewarding about the experience was hearing the band members talk about how some of their songs were constructed. For example the song Free Translator is a well-known folk song transformed into nonsense lyrics by babble-fish, the Google translating website, suddenly there was a method behind the madness of their lyrics. Also, actually witnessing Nick sing was fantastic; his voice has a particularly warm quality that he recreated live beautifully.

All up, an incredible show. If you weren’t there, you need to rethink your priorities.

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