Tue Sep 9 2008
Photograph: Philippe Levy
(Le) Poisson Rouge; Tue 17
The postpunk wave at the turn of the ’80s was wonderfully flexible—virtually any group that wasn’t playing symphonic prog or chugging 4/4 punk could be included. The roster of San Francisco’s Ralph Records was eclectic even by those standards, including flagship band the Residents plus Chrome, MX-80, the Art Bears and our heroes of the moment, Tuxedomoon. Founding members Blaine Reininger and Steven Brown, both music-school renegades, swiftly realized there wasn’t much future in opening up for Devo, and in 1981 relocated to Europe, where their brand of experimental chamber rock found many more outlets.
The band’s core instrumentation of violin, muted trumpet, clarinet, piano and electric bass can have an austere, minimalist quality, reminiscent at times of Satie’s compositions or Jimmy Giuffre’s drummerless jazz. Frequent augmentation with vocals (in multiple languages), live and electronic percussion, found-sound recordings and dollops of guitar gives the music a kaleidoscopic density. Onstage, the group uses projected images to intensify its impact.
Reininger and Brown are currently abetted by Peter Principle (a longtime member) and Luc Van Lieshout. Though Tuxedomoon’s deep roots in the musical history of the late 20th century are intriguing, the group’s three releases of the past half decade (Cabin in the Sky, Bardo Hotel Soundtrack and Vapour Trails) are arguably the best of its career, with lusher orchestrations that retain their edge, and a broader range of vocal styles. The group sounds simultaneously more mature and harder-hitting.