Blondes‘ Zach Steinman and Sam Haar may no longer be a lo-fi post-punk duo, but they’re still a jam band, of sorts. At New York’s Bowery Ballroom on March 2, guitars and drums were replaced by all manner of electronic equipment—drum pads, keyboards, effects units, but not a laptop in sight. The duo’s M.O. remains that of a college-age rock band: to spontaneously produce music, working together and building off each other. Blondes jams.
From Blondes’ equipment, it’s easy to see who’s in charge of what aspects of the music. Steinman seems to control the house beat, jerking his whole body to the rhythm. His movements behind the soundboard are ungraceful and grand: when he bobs to the beat, he leads with his shoulders, then neck and head. When he turns a knob, it’s an exaggerated sweep of the elbow. Haar is behind the effects and filters, twisting buttons with the dexterity of a monkey prying a bug out of a log.
The size and layout of the Bowery Ballroom was perfectly suited to DJ-turned-bandleader Matthew Dear, whose five-piece band added audacity and theatrical flare to his performance. At the beginning of the show Dear had most of the stage to himself, giving him ample real estate to jump around, shake a maraca and thrash with his bandmates. He started alone on stage, looping his a cappella vocals like James Blake performing “I Never Learnt To Share.”
Soon enough Dear was joined by his four bandmates—a horn player, two drummers and a bass guitarist—for “More Surgery,” a cut from Dear’s latest album Black City. Dear played the keyboard, manned the DJ equipment and wrangled the electric guitar on top of his duties as lead vocalist and maraca-shaker. His dedication to the performative aspect of his instrument-playing was clear from the get-go. When Matthew Dear shakes a maraca, he shimmies around the whole stage.
Although he started with a Black City track, Dear wasted little time in getting to the meat of his show and the reason behind his appearance at the Bowery Ballroom that night: to celebrate the release of his Headcage EP. With the band to back him up, Dear’s live version of the title track from the EP took on a less glitchy, stuttering quality, instead instead favoring the loud and grandiose.