Amon Tobin @ Congress, Chicago

On Friday, Five and I went down to Chicago to check out Amon Tobin's tour of his new album ISAM. His tour included a crazy 3D visualization stage setup designed specifically with his album in mind, and is still currently touring across North America. From the youtube clips I've seen of the show, it looked pretty neat.

Here is the trailer for his tour:

While the trailer represents what you see on the stage, it has a bunch of audience reactions, which leads me to believe their intended audience is the older, married, family crowd. These are the types of trailers you'd see for the Blue Man Group, or magicians, or some stupid movie. The type of trailer that's designed to get those boring people out of their houses and day-to-day lives, and experience something different for a change.

I'm not sure if they aired that trailer on TV, but the crowd in the Congress Theater was a bit different than the usual EDM crowd I'd expect in Chicago. Sure, there were plenty of kids who most likely listen to dubstep and electro on the weekends. As well as the crowd you'd find in clubs on the weekends. But, there were also those couples who might have seen a commercial, such as the trailer, and figured they could use a night out for a change. While the normal crowd was pushing and shoving their way around, the married crowd were respectful and nice about how packed the place was.

Opening for Amon Tobin was Emika, who was the official tour opener. I really don't remember much of her set at all. We got there about 10 minutes before she finished. But before Amon Tobin took the stage, they sandwiched in a local opener, Lorn. Lorn is one half of local electronica group Omega Clash, whose other half is adoptahighway. I've seen adoptahighway before, and he's pretty slick. Lorn wasn't too bad either. He performed a somewhat downtempo, slightly experimental, yet banging set. It was perfect for keeping the mood solid, while keeping the energy low in anticipation for Amon.

Lorn finished close to 11pm, and it took a little while for Amon to get everything setup. I think he finally started around 11:30pm. The curtains pulled up, and revealed the gigantic geometry stage thingy. For the most part, it served as a canvas for the visualizations being blasted onto it from the projector right behind Five and I.

The stage presence was huge, and reflected and reacted to the music. Amon Tobin's set was basically playing his new album ISAM from start to finish, with a little improvisation between tracks, but it didn't seem like much. I hadn't listened to the album ahead of time, but I dunno... It didn't really speak to me at all. It was experimental in nature, and didn't really have any groove to it. Without a constant beat to frame the sounds, it didn't capture my interest.

After Amon finished ISAM, he exited his contraption, got up a stage, and took a bow. And went back inside for an encore. After his encore, he did the same thing, and came back for a second encore. The style of his first encore was much more drum 'n bass than experimental, and his second encore was kinda in the middle of his two styles. I'm guessing that his started off as drum 'n bass, and eventually moved into experimental later.

ISAM v. Shpongletron

Earlier in year, Fishy, Chaos and I saw Shpongle as he rolled in Madison on tour with his own crazy stage contraption known as the Shpongletron. It has wings on the side, and an eye on the top that were made out of LEDs and had several visualizations programmed into them. In the center sat the Shpongle head. It would illuminate itself, and the colors would change. The light source on the head would change as well, which was somewhat trippy to think of how it was doing that. But then it moved! The head twisted and contorted. It would stick its tongue out at you. It was really interesting to see, mainly because I wasn't expecting that at all. And there wasn't a projector around either, so I really wasn't sure how that was happening.

Here's video I took from that show: at the 18 minute mark.

With Amon Tobin's ISAM stage setup, that suspension of disbelief was never there. The huge projectors in the middle of the floor shone like a spotlight on the stage, and you could clearly see the geometry of the stage setup for what it was. Plus, there were few times when the visualizations actually took advantage of the cubed nature of the structure. And even then, you could clearly tell it was being painted on by the projector.

It really wasn't until Amon's second encore when the visualization reached the level I had experienced with the Shpongletron.

It painted a bunch of stacked cubes on the structure, and they twisted, and collapsed several times. It was subtle and fit with the design, so it looked believable (at least until they fell over). The whole rest of the show was way too deliberate. Some of it would have been better off using a giant LED display instead.

Overall, it was alright. Amon Tobin is part of the Ninja Tune record label. And while I'm a big fan of that label, I think I need to remind myself that their music is very hit-or-miss with me. Some experimental really grooves and speaks to me, but I think I need to be in a certain mood to receive it properly. Otherwise, it falls flat :/