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REVIEW: Squarepusher: live in Montreal, 04/04/2004
4.18.2004 by Nathan Van Fleet

On 04/04/04, a most auspicious date, Nathan Van Fleet and Chrystina took a chance on Squarepusher (Tom Jenkinson) - a laptop guy with the intent to rock out. A packed Club Soda gave him their full attention, and our writer and photographer were there do document it. [All photographs by Chrystina. Title graphic adapted by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet.]

I wasn't sure what to think when I heard Squarepusher was coming to town. Electronic/IDM performances don't exactly have the finest reputation; perhaps due to these artists' tendency to look like you accidentally walked in on their bedrooms, that you caught them in wife-beater and jockey shorts. Even with Squarepusher's 10+ years of experience - and his latest album, Ultravisitor, which is a tribute to live performance, - I still wasn't sure whether he'd come out in his bath robe or not. It was also hard to predict which style he would choose for the occasion: Ultravisitor ranges from the high speed "Tetra-Sync" to the folksy "Everyday I Love". Both types of song are inspired and all that, but I wasn't sure if I should pop some E or fire up the beer bong.

The opening act was Cassette Boy, "the Human Orchestra," an adept beat-boxer if I ever heard one. Mixing hip-hop inspiration with vocalised synthesizer sounds, he easily appealed to the crowd; the highlight was his send-up of the legendary rap song "Simon Says" by Pharoah Monch.

Squarepusher's setup was pretty minimalist: some strobe and regular lights that were synced up to the music. Instead of having a laptop, as I feared, he had three of them. So it was interesting to see him run back and forth between them for a while. To the joy of the audience (or just me), he also did a significant amount of spastic dancing. Tom Jenkinson looked a great deal like on the cover of Ultravisitor, but much more mad scientist, or homeless man, or homeless mad scientist.

The coolest part about his set was when he started using his bass guitar. Although he somtimes used it as a straight electric bass, most of the time it was hooked up through a synthesizer. I had noticed the guitar element in Ultravisitor but it clicked at the show that he must always use it in making music. It really gave him a rockstar appeal, and kept things interesting.

The show hit a snag near the middle when Jenkinson started exclusively jamming on the bass. It was configured as a synth and he fooled around with it for ten minutes or so, with nothing else playing. It was way too arrhythmic give any sense of movement or melody, and it brought the show to a bit of a standstill. I wondered whether he was just trying to get a chord - but couldn't - before he moved on, or whether he was making sound like that on purpose.

Thankfully that was only a small part of the show and is easily overlooked. A good majority of the music played during his set was stuff I had never heard before. Many of the songs were hardcore dance music, close to house and jungle. I suppose these are more tailored to live performances, and I think I would like them less if I heard them off an album. The ones I recognize are "Tetra-Sync" from the new one, and "Come On My Selector" from way back, as a finale.

In contrast to those faster tracks Squarepusher also played "Every Day I Love," but it was sandwiched between "Tetra-Sync" and "Come On My Selector". I think that someday it would be great if Squarepusher did a tour where he played nothing but his downbeat tracks. Maybe it would have been easier if he divided both sides of himself between two different monikers, because it seems that he's sticking to his most high tempo material as Squarepusher.

From what I had heard about other IDM artists performing live, I was pleasantly surprised.

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