In a modern musical landscape littered with genres and sub-genres, Hot Chip provides a counterexample; a band that can’t be pigeonholed into one style. This fact was quite evident at their performance at The Fillmore in San Francisco on Thursday, April 24th, as they used their electro-pop foundation as a launching pad to improvise and explore diverse musical feels, providing the capacity audience with a legitimate dance party. Hailing from London, England, this quirky quartet stepped on stage in front of an excited audience that had been anticipating this sold out show for weeks.
What was so impressive about Hot Chip was their ability to consistently reinvent their studio compositions on stage with heavy beat-driven improvisation, creating an atmosphere of excitement, energy and the unexpected. Throughout the night, the impeccable and heavy bass lines of the charismatic, Al Doyle, who has also toured with the “dance-punk” outfit LCD Soundsystem, anchored the polyrhythmic explorations, and gave the music a much heavier feel than one might anticipate from listening to their albums. The sound of the set was also largely influenced by the distorted synthesizer lines played by both Goddard and Clarke, producing darker improvisational segments that saw both band and audience members completely immersed in the music.
Thursday’s show provided a glimpse into Hot Chip’s newest studio effort, Made in the Dark, and showcased most of the albums songs. Stepping away from their more electronic second album, The Warning, their newer songs included more instrumentation, with Alexis Taylor on both keyboards and guitar, Joe Goddard on keyboards, Owen Clarke on keys and guitar, and Doyle on bass. This combination, coupled with Felix Martin on the drum machine producing heavy beats, treated the San Francisco audience to a mélange of new material with some older favorites blended in.
The band wasted no time as they ripped in to their first 12“ release off their new album, Shake a Fist. The composition gave way to a driving techno groove that was painted with beautiful melodic leads by Taylor’s guitar and Goddard’s synthesizer patterns. The crowd was bumping immediately as the band exuded energy from the moment they stepped on stage. Without stopping, the band moved into the favorite “And I Was a Boy From School” off of The Warning. With a driving beat, Hot Chip created a drone-type groove, seamlessly moving in and out of the somber chorus of, “We tried, but we don’t belong.” The meaning of these lyrics was poignant, as they spoke to the uniqueness of the band’s genre-defying music, and their quirky, bordering on nerdy, stage presence.
After the initial three songs were delivered without a pause, the crowd erupted upon the new composition, “Bendable Poseable.” Melding a heavier rhythm section with lighter electronic melodies, the band again veered off their compositional roadmap into impressive electronic improvisation. “In The Privacy of Our Love” provided a glimpse into the musical shift of their new album with beautiful vocal harmonies and two guitars creating an electro-pop ballad. This gave the responsive crowd a chance to relax before the band leapt back into the up-tempo single from The Warning, “Over and Over.” The distorted guitar and keyboard melodies backed by a funkier beat provided a reentry into the intense energy that typified most of the night. Juxtaposing yet another musical style, akin to a New Order ‘80s anthem, the band played the catchy opening track off Made in the Dark, “Out at the Pictures.” Using synthesizer-based funk grooves, they stretched the four-minute track into a more adventurous incarnation.
Following some comedic stage banter, Hot Chip dropped into a mellower segment of the set. The minimalist song, “Wrestlers,” illustrated still another texture with a noted absence of heavy beats and multiple layers, and featured melodic lyrics and a chill electro-dub groove that starkly contrasted the rest of set. Building on the subdued mood, the band followed up with the Doyle-proclaimed “oldie but goodie,” “Crap Kraft Dinner,” off of their debut album, Coming On Strong.
Their upcoming single, to be released May 8th, “One Pure Thought,” brought the show to new heights, as it would be an understatement to say that the audience exploded with the opening guitar riffs of the song. Decorated with a catchy pop rhythm and repetitive lyrical verses, this song built to a melodic release in each chorus. Band and crowd danced together as the music hinted at the sound of ‘80s British new wavers, Depeche Mode, with melodic hooks played on retro sounding keyboards. The band closed with their first single off their new album, “Ready for the Floor.” Certainly a nod to the progressive art-rock movement of the UK’s previous decades, this overtly pop-based song wrapped up their set of primarily darker dance music with a much lighter vibe.
This vibe continued into the four song encore with the reflective ballad, “Made in the Dark,” adding a gorgeous dénouement to a very hot set. Following the crowd favorite, “No Fit State,” foreshadowing the end of the evening, Hot Chip, closed with a surprise take on the Prince song, “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Hot Chip, avid Prince fans, who cite the artist as a large influence on their music, prepared to head down the California coast to the Coachella Festival where they would share the stage with Prince. A band that truly needs to be experienced live to be understood, Hot Chip has progressed from an underground indie act to a place of more mainstream recognition; and based on their musical prowess, progression and diversity, their popularity will surely continue to expand.