When I first heard Jewellry, the debut LP from Micachu & The Shapes, I was simultaneously irritated and instantly a fan. Noises grate and lyrics obfuscate amidst the wry, spastic, educatedly uneducated music of Mica Levi, aka Micachu.
The boyish, blond-mopped Micachu shared the Cedar’s stage with Marc Pell and Raisa Khan, Pell on drums and Khan multitasking on laptop, auxiliary percussion, and keyboards. They not only looked young, they were young, all in the early 20s. (This was one of the few shows I’ve been to recently where I felt old.)
Most of Jewellry, the group’s debut album, is danceable as hell, while at the same time intellectually satisfying on an headphone-close listen. There are very few songs that sound similar on Jewellry, each a testament to timbral and sonic subtlety. These sounds are spread out in all parts of the stereo spectrum, and Micachu’s voice effortlessly dips into and out of the digital washes behind it. Such detail is due in part, no doubt, to the masterful presence of Matthew Herbert. And this combination also make it impossible to sit still on songs like “Vulture,” “Lips,” “Golden Phone,” and the Pee Wee Herman-channeling “Calculator.”
Unfortunately, neither of these elements were really on view at the Cedar, the band’s first date on their first US tour. The level of detail on Jewellry wasn’t there during the live show, which can mostly be chalked up to the live atmosphere, which doesn’t easily allow for the kinds of details possible on record. There were some moments that showed why the band should play these songs live, such as the intricate percussion duets between Pell and Khan (played on everything from garbage can lid cymbals to cowbells to bottles) and the explosive bass of “Floor” that seemed to catch everybody by surprise. And it was entertaining just to watch Micachu, whether it be her vocal delivery or the variety of instruments she played, which included a Frankenstein-ish acoustic bedecked with adaptations, a seemingly constantly de/untuned electric, and what looked like a home-made (anti-)Auto-Tune contraption. While her stage presence itself is nothing extraordinary, she has a wonderful, if unintentional, sneer while delivering her lyrics, lyrics that are opaque enough already without the accent.
It didn’t help that the audience was one of the stiffest I’ve ever seen at a show, at the Cedar or anywhere else. It wasn’t until the very last song that they started whoopin’ it up with joyful responses to “Golden Phone.” I was expecting a twitchy mass of spastically dancing hipsters, but few obliged.
Nothing about Micachu & The Shapes is all that new, whatever Pitchfork might say; shades of Deerhoof, Aphex Twin, Sonic Youth, Harry Partch (who is appropriately, if unexpectedly, thanked in the liner notes), Brainiac and numerous other pop/avant-garde acts all echo in Micachu’s overtones. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the show was a drag or Jewellry is any less impressive. Let’s just hope that the audiences on the rest of their tour will be a bit more effusive in their appreciation.