The Thornbury Theatre is pretty fancy. The interior is like a well-decorated cake, with baroque flourishes that modern architecture now scorns – gold ornate griffins pawing at ovals, dancing girls and ribbon trails all over the walls and the ceiling.
Round tables were laid out in a cabaret club style, and the majority of them had large Reserved signs on them, which deterred most people from feeling like they could take a seat.
High Places from LA consist of Mary Pearson and Robert Barber. Pearson’s sweet vocals soar above live guitar hooks, drum machine ditties and sampled glitchy effects.
Some of their songs have infectious parts – ‘On giving up’ with it’s delicious riff and repeated refrain: ‘tonight is going to be the night’ is hard to exorcise from the mind once you’ve heard it once or twice.
The crowd had that awkwardness that accompanies formality – not knowing quite when to clap and perhaps bewildered by the potential of Liza Minnelli suddenly juggernauting over to their table to sing a Berlin Weimar nightclub hit in your face.
The Books are an audio-visual experience that is really unlike any other. Their videos are so well made, tightly edited so as to fit like a glove with their music.
The poise of balance between humour and seriousness is a delightful experience in all of their songs, and one that is similarly conveyed in their clips.
The Books consist of duo Nick Zammuto singing and playing guitar, and Paul de Jong on cello, but tonight they were ably assisted by Gene on guitar and keyboard.
Chatty and disarmingly sincere, Zammuto talked between songs and explained some of the stock footage they used. Ranging from summer camp videos, or cheesy 80s golfing videos – which hung somewhere between an infomercial and golf porn; or for the video that accompanied ‘Group Autogenics I’ – disembodied heads on different backgrounds, tessellating patterns of an almost hypnotic thrall, and a chin-stroking montage that is mesmerising yet has you giggling at its silliness.
These videos that accompany The Books’ peculiar brand of music making a composite found objects and played litanies that somehow enmesh into extremely compelling soundscapes; are so well edited and attenuated to what is being played that you often wonder how either could exist without the other, and which might be created first.
The overwhelming sense you get in watching The Books is of their hyper-intelligence. There is something mathematical about their music, and if their video clip for ‘Meditation’ is any indication, they are also great lovers of puns and alliteration – the video is simply the word meditation portrayed in different anagrams on screen.
Zammuto described them as fans of outdated media – in reference to the use of tapes in their most recent album The Way Out. Indeed from watching the constant flow of bizarre TV clips and educational video extracts that they have at their disposal you wonder whether they have a shed full of old videos, or better yet, betamax tapes.
The Books are unafraid of deconstructing their own lyrics and imagery, paring them down to the elemental parts and then recasting them together in a greater synthesis.
Their imagery reminds us of the process of transformation – perfectly timing their progression of notes with the movement of hail, a bubble bursting, footage of milking a cow’s teat or the slow motion image of popping corn. Editing is key and the challenge in watching them perform is to tear yourself away from the visuals above to watch them play their instruments, which they do with skill and aplomb.
By the time they emerged for an encore – a cover of Nick Drake’s Cello Song, they had Thornbury Theatre in the palm of their hand, utterly won over by their seamless collage of sight and sound.
– Anaya Latter