I have often said that electronic music concerts are the best example of an experience that can go one of two ways: either the dull setting of a single DJ with a mild array of lights and unreasonably loud walls of bass that do more to rattle your teeth than to provide enjoyable percussion, or a full-on experience — from either one man with a table covered in expensive gear, or an entire band centered around synths, drum machines, or other instruments of the digital age — with a dazzling visual accompaniment. It also helps, of course, if you have more to bring to the table than simple a throbbing house beat and a simple-yet-evolving methodology to your melody and rhythm; adding traditional or untraditional rock instruments, as well as an aesthetic that blends them with the sweeping pulses that make up the backbone of your sound, is a sure-fire way to something refreshing and undoubtedly successful. Such is the case with the Liverpool music collective known as Ladytron, who also up the scale every time they play by bringing an eclectic set of opening acts — guaranteeing an exciting show every time.
The first time I saw Ladytron in San Francisco, they headlined at the Fillmore with Norwegian dance masters Datarock backing them up, as well as the energetic Delta Fiasco, who also hailed from Liverpool. About a year later, they traded off the headlining spot with the retro-loving synth-laden rockers in The Faint. Tonight, at the Regency Ballroom, their openers continued to be excellent selections, albeit with remarkably short sets. Southern California was the home base for Polaris At Noon, who kicked off the night with a brief but brilliantly lively set and dazzling light show. Singer Jason Suwito carried most of the charisma and energy of the band, often bouncing across the stage or throwing hurried looks to his band members at the onset of their breakdowns, leading to an explosion of movement onstage. While limited to only six songs, the quintet played masterfully: an excellent combination of heavy, pulsing rock laced with synths, almost a cross between the majesty of early Coldplay, the steady melodies of Depeche Mode, and the furious mayhem of The Sounds, all packed into a 30-minute time span.
Where Polaris At Noon had opened the night with a blast of rock and roll, SONOIO — the solo music project of Alessandro Cortini, former keyboardist and programmer for Nine Inch Nails — brought back the intricate electronic pulses, bizarrely constructed synth waves, and a dash of lighthearted pop in some of the songs as well. Appearing with an incredibly minimal setup onstage — only a laptop, mixer, and a few other random instruments — as well as a tiny array of bulbs and a light-rope-woven microphone, Cortini stayed hidden mostly in shadow, with his clandestine image tossed back and forth by brief pulses of light that followed the thunderous rhythm he projected into the Regency Ballroom. The influence of Nine Inch Nails was definitely there — or was it Cortini that had brought his own influence to the industrial juggernauts? Either way, bits of dark electronics, buzzsaw synths, and harshly distorted vocals and drums crept into the set, adding an even greater element of mysticism to the mix, and an almost otherworldly feel to the small setup onstage.
However, if the minimalistic approach of SONOIO was tiresome or uncomfortable for the fans at the back who had an extremely limited view of the activity onstage, they were rewarded for their patience shortly after 9:30PM that night. A delicate introduction played to mark the arrival of the band of the hour, with a bright crimson glow setting upon the stage as Ladytron finally came into view. Despite the evening marking their Northern California appearance for their Gravity The Seducer album tour, the band kicked off the set with “Soft Power” and “International Dateline”, two cuts from their much-loved classic Witching Hour, before opening up the set for new music with the song “Mirage”. The energy and response of the crowd, thankfully, did not wane even slightly between the opening pieces and their Velocifero hit “Ghosts”, and thus, Ladytron greeted them warmly before continuing with more pieces from the highly-anticipated new album.
Not content with being possessed of two excellent singer-synthwriters, as well as a full backing rock band, Ladytron’s shows step up the gamut in terms of production for concerts within smaller venues. Whereas great arrays of halogens, strobes, rope lights, and spinning bulbs of every color are more likely to be stacking the walls of a titanic arena performance, the Liverpool quintet managed to pack all of those — in great quantity — into the Regency Ballroom for a truly spectacular show. Each song of the night brought with it a new extravaganza of visuals to accompany it. These ranged from somber displays like the opening numbers, which bathed the room in alien hues with the occasional pulse from a few towering floods, to frenetic, jittering walls of light, with the strobes and halogen pillars battling for supremacy above the sweeping hues below. Amidst all of this was the massive light pyramid that took up the back wall, and complimented nearly every song by framing the band within their palace of luminance onstage.
Of course, one can go on and on about the glory of their visual setup, but Ladytron’s expertise definitely lies in their brilliantly-crafted electronic rock. In testament to this, their set spanned across all five of their records, which the most attention being devoted to Witching Hour and Velocifero, with several pieces from Gravity The Seducer entering the mix. Classics such as “True Mathematics”, “Seventeen”, and “Discotraxx” were the sole selections of their earlier records, and the crowd received a treat in the form of “Little Black Angel”, the Death In June song that the band covered for their 2010 retrospective collection. The crowd definitely stayed energetic throughout the entire set, however; new pieces from Gravity The Seducer were as well received as cult classics, though a definite appreciation for the focus on Witching Hour was noticeable in the more enthusiastic dancers. The band disappeared briefly before their encore, which kicked the dancefloor back into high gear with Ladytron’s newest single, “White Elephant”, as well as their arguably most-loved classic “Destroy Everything You Touch” to close out the marvelous performance.
As noted earlier, this was my third time seeing Ladytron, and it was clearly evident that they are extremely happy where they are — pushing the envelope constantly, with excellent new cuts and a visual accompaniment that seeks to up the ante every time they tour. It could, thus, be argued that their intent is to push that envelope as much as possible, and catapult themselves into an even more dominant force in the synth-rock scene. As with their previous appearances, the entire evening was exciting, thanks to their always-wise selections of opening acts, and a bright camaraderie amongst the crowd, which drew from brightly-colored dance lovers, black-clad goths, and everyone in between, to create a gorgeous palate of humanity to accompany the stunning display onstage. One thing is for sure — Ladytron is back in a bright, loud way, and I personally can’t wait to see what — and who — they will bring the next time they come back to San Francisco.
All photos by Jonathan Pirro.