I Feel Better: Hot Chip at Central Park Summerstage
On Wednesday August 4, the wife and I took a round trip to Manhattan to see Hot Chip at Central Park’s Summerstage. It’s one of our favorite venues, especially for dance acts: though it can be something of a sun trap before night fall, and while on hot, and especially, humid evenings like this one, you only have to stand still to feel the sweat drip down your back, it’s rare that the vibes inside the concert area, on the East Side of the Park around 72nd Street, are ever less than perfect. Certainly, though a few people around us partook in one too many of City Winery’s 10oz/$18 glasses of red wine, there was not an ornery attitude in the (outdoor) house. Evidence was provided by the fact that almost every last female was seen to be wearing open-toed sandals or flip-flops and not one of them complained on being stepped on, despite the density of the crowd and the enthusiasm of its movement.
A fund-raiser for the rest of the summer’s freebies, the $35 ticket seemed well within reason given that support came from two of New York’s own finest dance-related indie acts (both on DFA, surely by no coincidence). Holy Ghost!’s cerebral electronic pop rock came across as a pretty good reading of the Brooklyn musical zeitgeist, while Hercules and Love Affair were the gayest dance act I’ve seen in daylight, outdoors, since… probably the Scissor Sisters at the V Festival back in 2004. Part throwback to the Paradise Garage, part vogueing display, part live riffing, and with just enough indie sensibilities to win over a mostly straight, popcentric crowd, Hercules and Love Affair proved enormous fun – even though, like Deee-Lite a couple of decades before them, they offer more by way of grooves and rhythms than solid songs: “Blind,” made mildly famous on record thanks to Antony Hegarty’s guest vocal, is the exception rather than the rule.
Still, for all the cool local support slots, the crowd of young, beautiful and seriously under-dressed New Yorkers was here primarily to see South London’s own Hot Chip – though when they took to the stage, it turned out that Joe Goddard, one of the group’s two perceived leaders, had stayed home, on “paternity leave,” an absence that had not prevented him recording his vocal contributions on video, which were then spliced in via an on-stage screen. That’s the kind of trick that typifies Hot Chip, a band whose debut album included humorous song titles like “Crap Kraft Dinner” and “Down With Prince,” and who have always combined organically humane sounds (guitars, drums, steel pans etc.) with synthetic ones (digital keyboards, programmed drums etc.), creating a balance that has made them equally palatable for both the dance floor and pop radio – albeit not necessarily a number one hit with either.
That appears to have changed with this year’s model, One Life Stand, in which the angular rhythms are softened considerably, the melodies fleshed out, the lyrics fixated fully on all matter of infatuation, and the majority of vocals handed to Alexis Taylor, whose gentle falsetto delivery tips Hot Chip firmly into boy-band territory. (Knowing as much, they created a fictional boy band to substitute for themselves on the superlative video for the album’s lead single, “I Feel Better,” as seen below.)
The result is easily Hot Chip’s most consistent and commercial album to date, and by far and away their most successful. And, as per my quote from Australian novel The Slap in a recent iJamming! post, the author writing of a group of kids at The Big Day Out festival…
the boys walking off to see The Streets, the girls going to Hot Chip
…their audience at Summer Stage was mostly female. Or put this way: the vast majority of the men, like me, were there with a woman. Did I already mention that these women – girls, mostly, Posie and I feeling unusually at this show – were beautiful? Should we credit the skimpy clothing, a natural byproduct of a New York heatwave? The city’s famous multi-culturalism that ensured an audience across the color spectrum, from lily white to coal black? Was it the beads of sweat lingering on any number of strapless shoulders that rendered them extra sexy? Of just the contagious happiness of spending a midsummer night in Central Park watching a currently hot/cool band up close and personal? All of the above, I strongly suspect.
The set drew largely, predictably, from One Life Stand: eight of the album’s ten cuts made the 80-minute set list, as best as I could tell. The remainder mainly emanated from 2006’s The Warning, including the hopelessly melodic “And I Was A Boy From School,” “Colours,” and two incessantly infectious dance tracks, “Over and Over” and “No Fit State.” The only number I recognized from either ‘05’s Coming On Strong or ‘08’s disappointing Made In The Dark was the latter’s finest moment, “Ready for the Floor,” saved for the final encore. The crowd, to their credit, appeared to know everything – and danced to everything.
It wasn’t a perfectly segued set: I harbored a fear that the band shot its load by playing so many hits so early on, and a lull towards the conclusion suggested I was right. Nor were Hot Chip quite as consistently uptempo as I think my wife, at least, thought they might be on stage. We could all probably have done with more volume, too – even though the sound in the open air travels to neighboring streets, it’s really not that loud when you’re in the audience. And of course, the absence of Joe Goddard was somewhat serious and while I’m all for bands covering each other’s tracks (literally) and for dads being at childbirth, unless the baby was significantly premature or late, they’d have known about this before booking their tour. But they are such a talented bunch of f***ers, routinely swapping instruments with the playful ease of a bunch of MIT nerds, that Joe’s absence was only evident to the uninitiated on the times that his video vocal was spliced in. (I would name all the other members for their specific contributions but for the fact that they stagehopped so often it’s difficult to determine who played what, when.) Besides, they manage to connect with their audience in a way that I suspect surprises even themselves.
The highlight came at approximately 9:20pm. As had been happening periodically, a couple of girls squeezed their way into the front rows, next to me and the wife, near the front of the stage. As stated already, everyone here is gorgeous. But one of these two girls is drop dead gorgeous. I’m talking Elle cover model well-built but small-chested natural blonde drop dead gorgeous. She is all the more gorgeous for the fact that isn’t drenched in sweat like the rest of us: she looks like she’s come straight from a chicly air-conditioned five-star hotel bar. And now she is standing right next to me, so close that I can feel the radiating glow of her beauty, declaring her love… not for me, of course, and perhaps not for anyone in particular in her life right now (she is clearly not on a date), but she is singing along to the chorus with her hands clutched tight to her chest in that painfully (but joyously) sincere way that girls always seem to when they hear their favorite song:
“And oh, my heart has flown to you just like a dove, it can fly, it can fly,
And oh, please take my heart and keep it close to you, take it in, take it in.”
The lyrics are saccharine. But when sung by this band of nerdy, encroaching-on-middle-age men, one of whom has stayed home on a paternity leave perhaps brought on by his band’s endless romanticism (One Life Stand must have been finished about nine months ago, right?), they’re almost tearfully sincere. Unable to resist the attraction, I turn to the lovestruck girl next to me and examine her as if she is the Mona Lisa herself. She sees me taking her in even as she keeps her eyes half-closed, and she smiles back at me in acknowledgment of the moment, that it is hers, that the song is hers, that it’s the one she’s been waiting for all night long, and whether or not she has anyone in her life to sing it about right now, she’s going to sing it, regardless of how it makes her look.
The song in question is the finale to One Life Stand, “Take It In.” It’s archetypal Hot Chip in its juxtaposition, given that it starts with a menacing techno rhythm, an equally uncomfortable minor-key synth part, and a mournful vocal by Goddard, before segueing into this incredibly uplifting, passionate chorus, accompanied now by a lilting indie-dance drum rhythm, a funky little guitar, a synth pad and an electric piano – and Alexis Taylor’s distinctly soft vocals. In the CD age, at least to the extent that we still live in one, it’s rare indeed to find a final song as strong as an opening cut, the lead single, or in fact almost anything that precedes it. With One Life Stand, Hot Chip managed that and so much more, which is why it’s the Fletcher family’s contender for album of the year. Hopefully, we’ll still feel that way in years to come. But this much I know: I’ll never be able to listen to “Take It In” without being reminded of the beauty of youth. In New York. In the summer time. At Summer Stage.
And really, what better association could I ask for?