The first time I saw Liars’ Angus Andrew perform he was wearing a blue kilt, and he was terrifying. Towering over the crowd at 6’6″, screaming into the microphone and generally behaving like he had spiders crawling on the synapses of his brain, Andrew looked like a snarling hell-demon who was probably good at basketball. Last night, when Liars took the stage at Webster Hall at 10 p.m. sharp, Andrew emerged sporting a stylish black suit, a neat goatee and finely combed long black hair. He looked composed and collected, like a cool art teacher on parent-teacher night. Gone was the violent maniac of years past, but how long would the beast stay hidden?
Not long actually. Touring behind their latest album WIXIW, a synth-heavy, twitchy collection of sample-based experiments and borderline-heartfelt laments, Liars began the show with the record’s opening track, “The Exact Color Of Doubt,” one of the gentlest and prettiest song in the band’s endlessly eclectic catalog. “I’ll never let you go,” sang Andrew, as drummer Julian Gross (sporting a flowered-print button-down and a white Miami Vice jacket) played a soft pitter-patter beat on a drumpad and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Hemphill (sporting bleach-blond hair that shimmered under the black lights) summoned ghostly murmurs from the equipment in front of him. The crowd response was polite and appreciative, but you could tell something was amiss: These people came to be bludgeoned.
But here’s the thing: Liars have developed into a band that can to do much more than assault audiences with slabs of no-wave screeching and post-punk pounding. Over the last 10 years they’ve developed the type of deep discography that can turn each show into a unique career-spanning experience. They have dynamics now, and last night’s show was a masterclass in sequencing and modulation. You got the haunting tribal dirges of Drums Not Dead, the throbbing rave-like tracks off the new one, the sparse dance-punk off their debut, the skin-crawling noise-rock of They Were Wrong And We Drowned and the disarming pop-psychosis of Sisterworld. Not every song built to a “Kill them all!” finale, like crowd favorite “Scarecrows On A Killer Slant,” but the quieter, more reflective moments made the blasts of dissonance and rage even more satisfying.
The track that produced the biggest reaction—bodies colliding, feet stomping, fists pumping— was the self-titled’s “Plaster Casts Of Everything,” which still feels like one of the most visceral songs ever written, a minimalistic hate-fuck that’s actually super romantic. “I wanna run away/I wanna bring you too,” howled Andrew, the band releasing a primal HULK SMASH of noise. The couple in front of me that was awkwardly grinding to earlier dance-like tracks was quickly torn apart by the onslaught of flailing limbs. Liars: still not the most reliable make-out band.
And, yes, eventually Andrew lost the fancy jacket and moved to the front of the stage, spreading his arms wide, giving the thumbs up and letting his tangled hair fall in front of his face in a sweaty heap. It was hot. Really hot. So hot, in fact, that when the band played a sparse but loud take on WIXIW‘s “No. 1 Against The Rush,” I swear the harsh vibrations of the group’s music managed to create a breeze that emanated from the stage and briefly filled the room. If Liars can cool a room on one of the hottest days of the year, is there anything they can’t do?