Todd and the Liars at The Egg, Albany NY, 6.9.04

Review by Dan Styklunas (Switch to

I was expecting my eggs to arrive sunny-side up, given that a) this was the last show on this first leg of the tour, b) it was in a beautiful acoustic theater, and c) it was being recorded for a possible DVD release. My eggs arrived as a scrambled mash, not always pretty, but still satisfying.

The biggest flaw? Why "Flaw" itself, of course, which as others have documented was recently added to the set list. Like some other Liars tunes, this one is much improved live. First, the groove sits so much better with Prairie setting the shuffle with a human feel. I find the overly quantized hi-hat on the recorded version pretty unsettling, but here it was light and airy, perfect for the arrival of summer... and having the audience singing the "motherfucker" part is a beautiful thing. The FCC might even bend its rules on that word if enough of them heard it sung this way.

The Egg really is a wonderful place to see a show. Reasonable prices, plenty of parking, a large circular lobby, comfortable seats with great sight lines... this place was done right. It has just under 1,000 seats, though only maybe 800 were in attendance. Throughout the show 2 telescoping cranes moved video cameras in and out, careful not to interfere with the audience view too much. There were cameramen on stage as well, including one who missed the memo that Todd likes to go in and out the rear center of the stage for dramatic effect. Early on he nearly flattened a guy on his way back to the mic to deliver a chorus line. He joked about it later, but it definitely got under his skin at the time.

The sound was inconsistent throughout the show, but more good than bad. Thankfully Todd's vocals and lead guitar were both lucid and way out front, possibly in order to ensure they were captured properly for the recording. The bass was often muddy or clicky, and never seemed to be EQ'd properly, although Kasim's Schecter bass sounded much better in the 2nd set. If you are going to get the mix wrong, please err on the side of too much vocals and lead guitar.

Overall the band was focused a little more inward, maybe because of the recording. Some of the edge of the other two shows I saw was missing. Makes you wonder, as another reviewer said, if they will even put out the DVD from this show. But I hope they do, as it was a worthy performance, with many moments to savor, some of which I'll try to recount here.

"Fascist Christ" is one of my favorites on this tour. What was striking was how the sound shifted dramatically when most of the band dropped out to leave Todd rapping over a bare rhythm section. You could hear every syllable! It demonstrated just how layered and full most of Todd's arrangements are. If all rap was recorded like this there would be a much wider audience for this style. At the time I wasn't thinking about rap music in general, but was fixated on this groove and how well the soulful ending arrangement works. Soulful rap... yeah, that's it.

I had a wide smile on my face whenever Todd played lead. OK, so that is not exactly news, but suffice to say he's played enough gigs now to get the rust out, and this laptop went up to eleven. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" brought the crowd to its feet, and not just because they recognized the tune. The Liars were shining, the guitars crying.

I'm liking this new small semi-hollow body gold guitar Todd pulled out for "Infidel" and "Fringe." Not sure what it was... an Ibanez maybe? Someone? Anyone? Also worth noting was "Love Science," which I had not heard before on this tour, and they nailed it. John sang the angelic "Love" and Kasim the earthy "Science."

For the first time in my 3 shows on this tour I heard Kasim do a bass solo during "Born to Synthesize." From what I saw and read, it seemed to be a running in-joke with the band to screw around here. In Portland it was Jesse playing a loud sample from someone shouting "Now! Back to where it all began... AFRICA!" Other shows he pretended he couldn't think of anything. Here he had the flange effect up high, did a little "Hammer in My Heart," with Prairie slamming a backbeat for a few bars, as if they might do the tune. Then a nice "Seven Rays" quote, which for all we know he may have played at his first audition for Utopia all those years ago.

Jesse also had a nice turn, jumping into the fray and out of his cube with a loud zoomy riff, then showing he too was born to synth, before ending it with a quote from the Simpsons theme. And instead of just Jesse trading licks with Todd, this time around the whole band got into the act, mimicking him on each "I was born!" to the point of silliness, getting sloppier as they went. Funny stuff, even if you've seen it before. The crowd was into it, and I'm sure many didn't even know the song.

In a past review I mentioned a pet peeve about how Todd never hits the first solo note in "Just One Victory." Watching him again it was clear that it's not that he doesn't know where that note is... it's just part of his shtick to time it so that he slings on the guitar without a second to spare, adjust the strap, crank up the knobs, and deliver the final peak of the night's journey. No, he didn't hit the first note here either... ;^D ... but he didn't fumble around, and played the hell out of it, doing the circular one-legged bunny hop like Chuck Berry on acid. I think it's time to reassess where the first note of that solo is... ;^D. There was a lot more to savor besides the solo… the whole tune was two or three steps above "Hello It's Me" in intensity. Maybe the band realized they were about to get a few weeks off, but everything was hotter, all the vocals, Prairie's fills, the groovy handclaps, Kasim's XXL smile.

See my pictures for evidence... eyes that have seen, you know what I mean.

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6/09/2004 - Empire Center at the Egg - Albany, NY

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