Oh, meet our new intern Jenny! She asked to do a live review of the Micachu and the Shapes show last week, but wound up doing so much more. —Ed.
The lo-fi, oft-discordant sound of Micachu and the Shapes isn't instantly accessible. Abstaining from the current pop obsessions and support mechanisms of spacey synths or swooning melodies, they build tracks from coarse rhythms and junkyard creations.
But seeing them live, it all
falls into place. They are mesmerizing, and tons of fun playing tight, percussive pop with almost psychic synchronization. The trio read each other perfectly, and have a disarmingly unaffected stage presence. Sending out love to the Portland crowd, they seem genuinely touched to be so well received, far from their native UK. This is something of a surprise given frontwoman Mica Levi's reputation for snarling on stage delivery—when ‘in the zone,' she's a growling mass of piercing black eyes and unruly short curls.
Such was my trepidation on catching the band after sound check before their Doug Fir show. But while they looked exhausted ("next time we're getting a real tour bus, not a van"), they were also my new favorite band, cracking expansive smiles and loaded full of excitement for their first US headlining tour.
It turns out M&TS have none of the arrogance accompanying international touring and major blog hype—just unassuming, fresh-faced charm. Oh, and talent. All three took up studies at London Guildhall School of Music and Drama, with drummer Marc Pell still trying to complete his final hour-long composition piece for graduation on the tour bus. Quietly elegant keyboardist Raisa Khan starts back again in February, while Mica is ready to admit her career's taken off sufficiently to drop out. She defies expectations, having already scored for the London Philharmonic, produced mixtapes for the city's grime MCs and provided instrumentals on big installation pieces.
Do not fear though: there's no trashy attempt to combine the disciplines is on way, Mica protests. “There's nothing worse than bad, forced-together fusion. That's one of my pet hates.” She prefers the remix as a way of forging identities: “It's so interesting, when you send [a song] away and people do completely different things with it."
“Usually what I like in other people's music,” confirms Mica, “is that it's SO distinctively them…we've learnt a lot off other bands; their strength of identity, musicianship, songwriting. Some have different personas, different attitudes, more of an aesthetic, or really unaesthetic...”
“Ooh and the way the Invisible communicate their music to each other,” adds Marc. Currently stalking GIRLS—who have an identical tour schedule—up the coast, they're all avid music consumers.
It's sure refreshing to see a band succeeding with a passion for music over theatrics. Mica admits to having been naive when the group first got started, uninterested in trends and publicity (“it's so so fickle, it's ridiculous"), and the band avoids having to worry about image by developing something of a stage uniform—big white T shirts with simple, geometric Shapes on them. They don't pretend to be overly interested in MySpace and blogging, keeping a utilitarian approach in so many respects. When asked what people could expect from their live show, I was met with “well it's not really a show, we just kind of play our songs.”
Raisa continued: “We definitely don't try and hide anything from people who are watching…”
“Bad acting, bad banter?” quips Marc.
Mica's pensive. “I dunno, it's quite lighthearted, not too deep. I dunno, that's hard!”.
The band does have some gimmicky elements—all their instruments are lovingly improvised or adapted in some way, with the lead guitar turning into something of a ukulele hybrid. But talk is kept to a minimum. “Raisa said maybe I should explain the songs a bit. 'This one's about suicide'," the singer admits.
Was I the only one who had completely overlooked the lyrics of "Golden Phone"? I did understand "Just in Case," which flawlessly sums up mid-twenties performance anxiety. The band cooks up new material freely, with its short sharp skiffles stabbing out amongst fuller rousing cacophony. We can only hope further releases capture the frantic power of the live show, which they deftly engineer while pulling faces and making each other laugh. M&TS gigs have the rare quality of rendering all other music impossibly tame and lifeless in comparison for, like, days after you catch their performance.
As for the band itself, they're anxious to get back to recording, but who knows what will follow debut album Jewellery
. Mired in school projects and art movements, the band could move in any direction. Up, most likely.