The stage setup for Hot Chip at the Highline Ballroom on Saturday had more inventory than a Guitar Center showroom. Multitudes of keyboards, drum machines, and samplers breathlessly crammed next to bongos, Cuban congos, and miles of patch cables. And when the five unassuming guys from Hot Chip finally appeared, you half expected them to be the sound techs, as they looked more grad school than school of rock. But by the time they launched into their second song, the impossibly catchy "Boy From School," it was clear that these guys had every intention of ripping up the floor with their unique, nervy brand of elastic geek-dance. As Alexis Taylor delivered the song's honeyed centerpiece line "We try, but we don't belong," the crowd fell in and sang along, making one thing for sure--for the next ninety minutes we would all unequivocally agree on at least one thing.
A sold-out mixed age crowd got into it from the get go, and the hair-whipping and head-bopping extended from the front all the way to the back upper mezzanine. With no visual backdrops or electro light show, Hot Chip played mostly under warm-tone floodlights, making the whole affair feel like an impromptu house party. Tracks off the newest album, Made In The Dark, made up a good portion of the sweaty show. "Wrestlers," a soulful standout off MITD, sounded superbly smart-alecky as it made its way early in the set. Things kept on moving with the disco-charged "Touch Too Much," which was heightened by some infectious congo work. The ubiquitous "Over & Over" had its tempo upped up a bit, making the song even more berserk, if you can imagine. With the speed increase, it seemed downright humorous as Taylor started singing the words "Laid back, laid back, we'll give you laid back."
The new single "Ready For The Floor" (one of Hot Chip's most earnest songs to date), sounded brilliant and bouncy, with the merriment in the crowd rising to every line of the chorus "I am ready, I am ready for a fall." Lyrically, Hot Chip never disappoints. The love and violence contradiction is a common thread in a lot of their songs ("The Warning," "No Fit State"). They didn't play "The Warning" though; it would've been amazing to hear the crowd sing along to the chorus "Hot Chip will break your legs, snap off your head." It's the undercurrent twinge of masochistic sarcasm and lampooning that gives Hot Chip an edge over many of their dance-rock peers (take note LCD), but not to worry--these guys know what you're here for, and as clever as they are, they never let the drollery outshine the dance floor.
As far as the vocal duties, Taylor handles all the high-pitch stuff, while Joe Goddard does the lower range. It's a one-two punch that sounds sensational live, and it's the biggest part of Hot Chip's sound and charm. The call-and-response, while great on record, is even more engaging when you can see Goddard and Taylor give each other glance cues when their vocal parts are handed off to one another. The closed the night with the anthem "No Fit State," which is the best track that features the Taylor-Goddard tag-team vocal gymnastics. Every time the bear-like Goddard huffed out the tenor mantra "I'm in no fit state, I'm in no fit shape. . .," Taylor countered with a boyish soprano ". . . to fall in love with you," and ". . . to watch my fingers bleed," and ". . . to bust my body up," and ". . . to act a fool in love." It was a singing dual that lasted for quite a few minutes, and as Hot Chip's last song/parting gift, it served its purpose perfectly--neither love (high) nor pain (low) had an upper hand through any of it. It was all just part of the fun.
Photos by Gabriel Kuo