Show Review: Electric Six with Kitten and Mark Mallman at the Independent, 10/6/2011

by Jonathan Pirro on October 8, 2011

Improper dancing in the middle of the street

Improper dancing in the middle of the street

What makes a good show a really, really good show? The answer will vary depending upon whom you ask. For some, it’s when a mind-boggling array of lights, smoke, lasers and confetti is packed onstage at a shopping-mall-sized rock arena, with the platinum-selling act of the week destroying the eardrums of the next few towns over. For others, it’s not quite on the same scale, but it involves a display of incredible musicianship that is unequaled in measure. Hardcore concertgoers may tell you that a great show involves any collection of bands, anywhere, no matter how small or unlit their stage might be, who spends every waking moment of the show in brisk and uninterrupted movement, careening with jackhammer-like intensity around each other, knocking instruments and cables to and fro, barely caring whether or not the notes are as precise as on their pristine studio recordings. The final category of a great show involves any of the above, plus an automatic guarantee of fun based on the artist playing, and the memorability and masterful pop craft of their always-catchy and witty performances. While perhaps without the overzealous cacophony and synesthesia of the first category, Thursday night’s show at the Independent managed to stuff all of the other aforementioned definitions into their 500-person club — along with a near sell-out crowd that was there to see Electric Six, the┬áDetroit-based purveyors of the ultimate party rock freakshow.

Mark Mallman, otherwise known as Mr. Serious

Mark Mallman, otherwise known as Mr. Serious

When your headlining act is full of zany banter, bizarre stage mannerisms, and a very novel approach to danceable rock, you’ve got to have equal amounts of fun with your opening acts, and the Wisconsin based songwriter Mark Mallman was no exception. Despite arriving onstage a bit late and getting the chance to only grind out eight quick songs — along with a sudden equipment failure in the middle of his set — Mallman cranked his own personal intensity knob to 11 before the opening note of his first song. Possessed of all qualities of the wild rock star, Mallman ran in circles around his keyboard, sat astride it, danced atop it, and gesticulated wildly as he blasted through his short set. With the occasional burst of energy from accompanying drummer Aaron LeMay, who mostly provided a rock-solid rhythm to offset his singer’s over-the-top antics, Mallman seemed not the least bit deterred by the small opening crowd or their absent knowledge of his work, and wailed away as if he were David Lee Roth in Van Halen’s original heyday; only when he finally tore the cables from his keyboard and lifted the instrument above him, bellowing like a crazed savage, did the chaos onstage come to a close.

Chloe Chaidez is the hurricane frontwoman of Kitten

Chloe Chaidez, frontwoman of Kitten (photo by Dakin Hardwick)

Of course, no sooner had the tropical storm of Mark Mallman left the stage when he was replaced by the hurricane fury of the post-dance-punk LA act known as Kitten. Guitarist Andy Miller and brothers Max and Elvis Kuehn — sons of TSOL founder Greg Kuehn, on drums and keys respectively — brought a tight, crisp sound with excellent precision to the set, with bassist Zac Carpenter filling in the rest of the sonic landscape with powerful dark tones. No one on the stage, however, came anywhere close to touching the gargantuan intensity that exploded forth from singer Chloe Chaidez, who barreled onto the stage, mic whirling about in one hand and tamborine thudding against her chest with the other, and proceded to not take a single moment to slow down. The tempo of the songs, which ranged from original material to wonderful covers of “Transmission” by Joy Division and “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure, did little to dictate the level of energy that Chaidez danced at, with minor concerns like cables, instruments, and even other musicians serving as other implements to her wildly destructive onstage antics. For some in the crowd, it might have been utterly exhausting just to watch her careening back and forth like a supercharged pinball in an electrified machine. For most, however, it was stunning and enrapturing, with the intensity feeding into their onlookers and bringing them to a minor frenzy, a mere shadow of the outstanding display from their new heroine.

Kitten's setlist

Kitten's setlist (photo by Dakin Hardwick)

Once Electric Six took the stage, however, it seemed that the titanic blasts of energy exuded by the opening bands had finally managed to seep into the crowd, throwing them several notches up the excitement scale into full-on dance-party mode. While not displaying the absolute mayhem that Chloe of Kitten had been possessed of, the Michigan sextet did bring their full bag of tricks with them, complete with expert dance moves and deft rock maneuvering from bassist Smorgasbord! and guitarist The Colonel. The centerpiece of Electric Six, however, was most definitely singer Dick Valentine, who brandished his mic stand like an expert swordsman — never pointing it out to the crowd, but raising and swinging it about as if it were an antenna used to channel his inner persona. Valentine engaged the audience as much as possible, from song to song: whether it was off-kilter-yet-witty banter, offering the mic at an awkward angle, or beckoning his onlookers in colloquial rhythmic clapping, he completely owned the stage, and his audience ate up every moment of the set.

Despite the maximum response coming from the band’s two biggest hits, “Danger! High Voltage” and “Gay Bar”, Electric Six drew on nearly all eight of their albums for their set. Classics from Fire, where the aforementioned singles hail from, garnered the greatest collection of backup singers, while pieces from later releases Switzerland and Zodiac kept the crowd dancing heartily. Only the numbers from the band’s new album Heartbeats and Brainwaves┬áseemed to be lower in energy from the crowd than the band, no doubt owing to the newness of the material and a desire to see what antics the band had crafted for each piece. Valentine presented each song with a short introduction, noting the newer songs when they came up in the set, and otherwise making lofty proclamations about the other members of the band as they each were given opportunities to kick the songs off.

The relative steadiness of Electric Six’s set, coupled with the pent-up energy of the crowd that followed Valentine’s every word and gesture, led to a truly stellar second half of Thursday night’s show. All of the unkempt madness that had defined the earlier part of the evening was toned down for a solid set that kept on rolling all the way through till near the hour of midnight, with all six bandmates showing absolutely no sign of fatigue throughout. A brief disappearance from the stage accompanied the end of the band’s set, followed by a three-song encore that ended with Valentine egging the crowd on into an ooing-and-aahing frenzy, the frontman displaying a terrific blast of frenetic dancing for the ending minutes of the set.

All of the elements of what make up a fantastic show were present in the Independent tonight — brilliant musicians playing with all they’ve got, displaying unbridled passion in their movement and methods throughout, with a crowd that fed off the energy voraciously. Present for the entire evening was a sense of humor and play that is rarely seen in players so devoted to their craft, and it brought a lightheartedness to the environment that I often miss at the more wildly bombastic shows I attend. This show completely knocked my earlier memory of Electric Six — an opener for the 2010 Outside Lands Festival — out of the ballpark, cementing their place in my mind as one of the most joyously fun acts to see, and, if their cohorts’ enthusiasm was any indicator, one of the best groups to open for — especially in a club that packs 500 dancing maniacs together.

Electric Six's setlist

Electric Six's setlist

Mark Mallman (photos by Jonathan Pirro):

Kitten (photos by Dakin Hardwick):

Electric Six (photos by Jonathan Pirro):

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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