Caribou at NASA, Reykjavik (Tuesday, June 28, 2011)

Caribou are an enigma. The band perform with an elaborate amount of gusto live but seem to lack impact on recording. Caribou is Canadian multi-instrumentalist David Snaith and his live stage crew (i.e. Ryan Smith, Brad Webel and John Schmersal).

The most recent album, Swim, was a catchy electronic mish-mash, but does not withstand extended listens and seems to get lost in it’s own tame mixing and recording. However, live Caribou hit hard. The full band create a wash of energy and vitality that contradicts the album completely. They played a relatively intimate show in NASA, Reykjavik in June 2011.

Sinfang at NASA on the night

Supported by the exciting and engaging Icelandic act Sin Fang Bous (the solo project of Sindri Már Sigfússon of Seabear) the night started brightly, with the local crowd encouraging Sin Fang’s loops and riffs and catchy upbeat songs. Caribou’s signature stage arrangement, with the drums at the front of the stage, were already in place during the Icelander’s performance.

NASA is an intimate venue with a limited capacity. The stage is on a raised platform in front of a large dance-floor with wings on either side that fill up quickly for the eagerly anticipated gig. After Sin Fang and a brief intermission Caribou emerged.

This was dancing music of the highest order. Caribou are dynamic and animated live, spurred on by Snaith’s adrenalised drumming at the front of the stage. The gig had an immediate impact, and the crowd moved, jumped, cheered and alighted at Caribou’s electric performance (pun intended).

Laptop samples, drums, percussion, guitar and bass were the weapons of choice. Snaith stood on percussion, vocals and synth. Drums led the foreground, and the bass and guitar were an irregular background addition. Broad visuals on a large backdrop showed Caribou’s emblematic circle swirl and transform in colour and texture from a projected source. Lights flashed and flickered dramatically.

The gig was an unstoppable powerhouse of electronic music. It maintained a consistent energy from start to finish, communicating the broad array of Caribou’s musical ensemble to the feisty audience.

How Caribou never seem to impact on recording is baffling. Although they have received positive reviews, my own feeling is that Caribou’s albums never seem to hold their weight over an extended period, and get lost in the recent international catalogue of excellent electronic music. The songs lack lustre and seem to fall down in their immediacy and excitement, leaving the albums somewhat trailing. Contrary to their recorded work however, the band are powerful and encompassing live.

The show boasted terrific lighting and excellent sound, and the Icelandic audience were educated and receptive. The gig had been cancelled in May due to flights being grounded after volcanic ash entered the air, but the rescheduled show was still a sell-out or close to it.

An extended encore of bright anthem Sun sealed the deal on a reverberating night from the exciting four-piece. The movement and elasticity of the crowd by the time the show ended was overwhelming. Caribou prove their mettle live, justifying their recent call to support Radiohead in upcoming dates.

My personal reaction to the gig was to witness an emphasis on the importance of the impact of live music. This was the second time that I had seen Caribou live, the previous time was at a festival performance in 2010. On both occasions the band excelled. The live performance is punchy, helped by the encompassing lights and projections that assist the show in becoming more than just a musical performance, but a visual spectacle too. However, as stated, the recordings never match the intensity of the live shows. The immediacy of Caribou is unforgettable, and they show a stance on live music that can be dissembled and examined to justify a live viewing.

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