Show Review: Do Make Say Think with themselves at Great American Music Hall, 2/2/10

by Gordon Elgart on February 3, 2010

Nine musicians in constant motion, giving it their all

Do Make Say Think are one of the leaders of the instrumental rock genre, and have been for some time. Along with Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai and Godspeed! You Black Emperor, they’ve fought hard against the tyranny of lyrics to play dramatic and emotional music that’s all about the music. They’re the electric guitar era’s answer to classical music.  And on Tuesday night, they brought their nine-piece ensemble to Great American Music Hall, which is a perfect venue for them.

When the show started, Charles Spearin of Do Make Say Think walked on stage by himself, and explained what we’d be seeing. The band was going to come out, call themselves “The Happiness Project,” Spearin’s own side project, then go backstage. Then they’d come out again calling themselves “Years,” the name of Ohad Benchetrit’s project. Finally, they’d return as Do Make Say Think to play the main set. The musicians would be the same, but the musical styles would certainly change.

The Happiness Project was described as “science,” as Spearin recorded interviews with neighbors, loosely around the concept of happiness, and then listened to the voices for the music within. He then takes this music and uses it as the melodies for an album’s worth of songs. It’s an interesting art project, and it was surprising to see how well it worked live. Particularly impressive was the song called “Vanessa,” an interview with a formerly deaf woman who received a cochlear implant and talked about what it felt like to hear sound for the first time. It’s a fascinating interview, and the music turned it into a celebration of the physical sensation of sound. The whole Happiness Project set was full of little surprises; I recommend checking out the album.

Next up was Years, which also comprised the members of Do Make Say Think. The first two Years songs featured Benchetrit playing acoustic guitar with a series of pedals, adding effects and loops on top of himself, building a slow sweet melody into an almost dissonant conclusion. He’s a pretty incredible guitar player, and he was showing it off here. He then brought out the full nine piece for a couple of songs, both of which built off quiet peaceful loops and built into dramatic finishes. These songs were reminiscent of Do Make Say Think tracks, and were extremely well received by the crowd.

Finally, the same musicians came back out, introduced themselves as “Do Make Say Motherfucking Think,” and began to play the lead track of their newest album, a song called “Do.”

A Do Make Say Think track more often than not follows a certain formula. It’s to build around repeated riffs, get more and more intense, louder and louder, layering instruments from the nine piece band. Keep going louder until you can’t go louder, then go louder than that. Build and build until then, then, then you get to a gigantic climax! (At this point, every song, the crowd screams their approval.) Then you cuddle; rather, you play a slow coda with slightly different instrumentation that resolves the melodic themes of the song. Repeat.

This formula describes the first few songs of the night, but then the band was reduced to its core five members (two guitars, bass, two drummers) for a song that sounded like it have come right off Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii. Eventually, the rest of the band came back on, and the songs took on a different tone. Rather than slow builders, the band played a few shorter, absolutely fast driving numbers. One was introduced as the “#1 dance single in France,” and this got the crowd moving quite a bit.

The last song of the set was a fast, loud number that actually got the crowd dancing for the first time of the night. The rest of the time, it seemed the audience was holding its collective breath at the beauty of what was being played. Finally, we were in the midst of a celebration of music, and for the first time tonight, the show was simply fun.

After raucous applause and a quick encore break, Do Make Say Think returned, and immediately played songs that relied on their original formula. This took some of the life out of the crowd, and the screaming at the climax was missing. At this point, I wished that the band had pulled the no-encore move, because the encore lacked the excitement the end of the set had held.

Even so, this was a spectacular show. Every song is meticulously composed, beautifully played, and comes from the heart. If you’re a nine-piece band playing at Great American Music Hall, you’re in it for the love of art, and not the money, and it showed.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Rick February 3, 2010 at 9:31 pm

I’ve found that it is up to the crowd to take over during the encore of a DMST show. If you weren’t yelling during the encore, no one else will!

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Gordon Elgart February 4, 2010 at 1:13 pm

It was the involuntary release of screams that went missing during the encore. No voluntary whooping it up could have replaced it.

Next time, though, I’ll throw some screams in there and see what happens!

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