by Shaun Roncken
Many a band have stood onstage to strike a classic rock pose. Very few have stood upright to strum an electric conch. Perched behind a synthesizer, playing anonymous instruments, Alex Zhang Hungtai, aka Dirty Beaches, christened Wednesday evening’s set with a piercing wall of sound so violent it provoked a domestic dispute between a couple beside me:Girlfriend: This sounds like shit, I’m out of here. (Girlfriend leaves) Boyfriend: (Shrugs nonchalantly, stays for remainder of concert.)
Indeed, the first five minutes of guitar feedback was so grating that Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music would’ve sounded like Surfin’ USA by comparison. After a brief internal debate, I found myself siding with the girlfriend, and hexed Dirty Beaches to an eternal purgatory – where they ‘d forever serve as the house band for Sprockets. It would be a perfect fit: Alex Hungtai would plunk away in earnest on his cryptic instruments – never quite sure if Mike Myers was really joking beneath his German accent.
However, as the show wore on, I acclimated, and began to explore hypotheticals. I wondered if Dirty Beaches would be successful as a pair of 50 year-old suburban men who accidentally stumbled into the same tunes on their synthesizer? My answer was yes. I concluded they’d be even hipper than Dirty Beaches, assuming cargo shorts and Tevas became a staple of ironic fashion. While I reflected, a deconstructed take on early New Order boomed through the amps. I immediately decided that it would be fascinating to watch two men in fleece zip-ups accidentally discover postmodernism.
Although initially jarring, it was refreshing to attend a show that didn’t hit the usual rock show beats. There was just a single guitar, played sparsely, and the rest of the show resembled a digestible piece of performance art. Hungtai grumbled manically into his mic and looped a myriad of foggy beats through his synth. A few tracks sounded like Suicide, one used an a cappella effect in the vein of The Flying Pickets, and his last track, “Like the Ocean We Part,” made me daydream about seagulls floating in the breeze. It was a peculiar concert experience overall, and I found myself jolted each time the crowd broke for applause, as if they’d ruined Hungtai’s desired atmosphere. It’s too bad the frightened girlfriend left after five minutes, because we could’ve lifted the hex as a team. Mike Myers’ German accent continues to lie in wait.