It's been three long years since Klaxons set the British music press into another tizzy with their Mercury Prize-winning debut, Myths of the Near Future. Having created a whole new mini-genre, "nu-rave" -- a regrettable bit of journalistic shorthand that encompassed little of the band's ecstatic space-punk -- the quartet set about touring the world for a couple years before settling down to record their follow-up in 2008.
Unfortunately things didn't go quite as easy this time around with Myths producer James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco. Early last year, Klaxons' label, Polydor, allegedly rejected their initial recordings for being "too experimental" (according to tabloid The Sun), and the band headed back into the studio with (of all people) Korn/Slipknot producer Ross Robinson.
The result of these last-minute efforts, Surfing the Void is a pummeling spasm of psychedelia that owes nearly as much to Motorhead as it does to early Pink Floyd and Primal Scream. But as their show last night at Manhattan's Bowery Ballroom proved, for right or wrong, Klaxons made the right choice. There's pop all over these songs, which only mean they pair perfectly with the band's older, breezier and, yes, ravier material.
Klaxons alternated expertly between the new and the old. The grinding bass and wailing guitar lines of Void centerpiece "Flashover" bled seamlessly into the quirky, space-pop of "As Above, So Below"; Myths classic "Golden Skans" served as a worthy introduction to Void's poppiest track, "Twin Flames" -- a tune held aloft by Jamie Reynolds and Jamie Righton's call-and-response vocals.
The two of them made for an odd pairing on stage: Reynolds, hulking and bearded, pounding away on his giant Rickenbacker bass, sweating his way through every verse, and pint-sized Righton, fingering arpeggios on his synthesizer with one hand, his other raised to the sky. But it worked. The pair's unique harmonies -- one singing hot and heavy, the other falsetto -- made it easy to overlook Void's silly sci-fi lyrics ("Searches seem to show/ Damage to solar winds where the air uncovers/ Melting on star pole snow").
While the whole nu-rave thing thankfully never fully materialized, "rave" wouldn't be a bad way to describe last night's show. The area in front of the stage was packed with raised hands, jumping bodies, and smiling faces. And like any good DJ, Klaxons knew how to whip their audience into a frenzy. Halfway through Myths' "Magick," the band stopped the song for at least a full minute as the house lights darkened further and the crowd hollered for more, before roaring back with Simon Taylor-Davis' screeching guitar solo and more blinding strobe lights.
It was a great moment -- and Joaquin Phoenix was certainly smiling. There he was by the bar nodding his head looking very much not like his character in Casey Affleck's "documentary," I'm Still Here. No dreads, no sunglasses, no beer belly, just Joaquin hanging with his friends: Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. (in a predictably vintage AC/DC tee) and former Spacehog guitarist Antony Langdon, who played Phoenix's beleaguered assistant in the film.
Who knows, maybe the guy's working on an upcoming Brit-rock "documentary" -- the story of how Joaquin left Hollywood, got skinny, grew his hair out, and started writing fuzzed-out odes to Mars and time travel? Langdon could even produce. Anything's possible...
"As Above, So Below"
"Valley of Calm Trees"
"It's Not Over Yet"
"Surfing the Void"
"Alantis to Interzone"