Cooler than a karaoke machine and easier to operate, the iPod could well be the worst thing to happen to the live musician since the invention of the drum machine. Earlier this month a Chicago band called Midstates sent out a press release announcing not only that had they replaced a keyboardist, drummer, and guitarist but that thanks to their iPod’s new capabilities, the drummer would appear via iPodcast video projector.
Don’t tell that to Chop Chop frontwoman Catherine Cavanaugh, though. Last Friday, January 20, at P.A.’s, she found out the hard way that relying on an MP3 player to serve as your rhythm section isn’t always such a hot idea. Standing in for an absentee drummer, Cavanaugh’s iPod Shuffle was ill-equipped to anchor the band and, as a result, a track like “Bloodbath” lost some of its bite. Cavanaugh proved a good sport and salvaged as much as she could from the wreckage, including the chuckle-worthy “Suffering from My Hypothalamus,” on which she sullied band mate Christy Chen’s precious keyboard bits with intermittent blasts of electric guitar. Beamed in from an old-fashioned slide projector, the group’s photographic backdrops of city streets and family portraits added another dimension. At times, as when the bottled whir of a passing train intruded on a song called “Lines,” you could envision a performance-art project in the making.
Boy in Static’s Alex Chen, Boston’s most widely traveled laptop-pop auteur, cites Chop Chop’s latest disc as one of his favorites of last year. Chen was marking a prodigal return to the spot where it all began for him. A classically trained musician, he’d recorded a debut disc in his Allston bedroom that caught the ear of Germany’s Notwist, and he played his first live gig at P.A.’s in late 2004 before setting out on a European tour. (A new album, tentatively titled Violet, is due later this year). Fans and friends took seats on the floor while Chen went to work, dividing his time among guitar, melodica, and the knobs and buttons at his feet. Equally mesmerizing was band mate Kenji Ross, who had almost as much responsibility: tinkering on a laptop, pounding an electronic drum pad, and occasionally picking up a tambourine. For a group who make electronic pop, their performance was as spontaneous as any rock band’s. During one particularly dense orchestration, they threatened to sputter out of control, and even the laptop —bouncing uneasily atop its perch — looked as if it had had enough.
The Northhampton-based Winterpills reside about two hours west from Boston, but on a bill with a couple electropop bands, they might as well have been from the moon. Frontman Philip Price brought only an acoustic guitar, an actual drummer, and a singer whose sole function was to harmonize. (Somebody get that woman an iPod to fiddle with.) On “A Benediction,” Price played sparingly and shared vocal privileges with Flora Reed to charming effect. But the band really shone during those livelier moments when drummer Dave Hower — who as far as I could tell had in his possession the last pair of drum sticks on earth — beat out a visceral reminder of the joys of human percussion.
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Ian Sands: isands[a]phx.com