Blonde Redhead have never concerned themselves with musical politics. The alt-rock trio have been just as disconnected from trends as they are culturally aware of them, and as far as two-decade-old bands go, that’s becoming increasingly uncommon. Since their formation in 1993, the three have roamed from genre to genre, producing content that pleases their current taste buds as opposed to current trends. So when Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley first heard them practicing noise rock, he hopped on to produce their debut LP, but several years later they began to pull dream pop and shoegaze into their style, a continual progression that led them to where they are today: supporting their ninth full-length, Barragán, in all of its simplistic structure.
Post-punk act VBA opened as The Sinclair began to fill with herds of 30-year-olds, many of whom looked like ex-New York City dwellers who read the label of every vinyl in their local record stores. These were people who have seen the band grow. These were people who saw frontwoman Kazu Makino tumble out of a marriage. These were people who, over the last 21 years of the band’s existence, saw them pushing themselves. In return, Blonde Redhead didn’t play the new album with a few older hits sprinkled in. Instead, they brought a selection of tracks that showcased their new sound’s vivid potency.
As if carried by a warm, red-tinted cloud, Makino and twins Simone and Amedeo Pace floated onstage rather quietly. Once with their instruments, they gently opened with the first two tracks of Barragán, the cushioned rock inviting the audience into their own world. When followed with the pulsing urgency of 2004’s “Falling Man,” Blonde Redhead’s setlist became a vortex. The three didn’t engage with the crowd. There was no playful, awkward banter. They were there to create a world often only achievable through closed eyes and excellent headphones.
Much of the evening saw them expanding on Barragán‘s quiet curiosities. “No More Honey” bent dramatically with sonic elasticity, drawing out their dream pop vocal layerings and twisted synth, and “Mind To Be Had” almost had Makino’s legs snap from every twist of her body while being drawn in, as if through hypnosis, to her part. Without Simone’s drumming, their sound could be indulgent. His relentless pacing and thinning cymbals kept their grooves in focus while still allowing themselves, and the audience, to get lost. Even when they went into lead single “Dripping”, Simone stayed put, letting their experimental drops fall like they were being played in a foggy, post-rain backyard.
The last time Blonde Redhead played Boston, Makino collapsed onstage in the middle of their encore, crying. At first, it seemed like part of the act; the stage was lit by scattered lightbulbs on sticks and she wore a straw mask for much of the set. But when Amedeo came over to pat her on the back and, eventually, lift her up and off the stage, her crying heap fell like a weight on the whole crowd. Blame it on their reclusive, quieting sound or the pressure of her then-spiraling marriage. Either way, she was struggling to get by.
Four years later, Makino was moving with enough spirited energy–both sad and spirited–that their past performance was difficult to remember. The pearly frills of her dress couldn’t keep up while she threw herself onstage during “Spring and by Summer Fall” with its dueling cascade of guitars. The microphone cord got caught on notches while she writhed to the echoes of “23”, a dance fueled by two glasses of champagne, a mug of tea, and the stiff-but-supportive nod from her small toy horse perched on her amp. By the end of their encore, the three looked surprised, as if awoken from a dream, and slowly detached themselves from their instruments to offer several content waves and bows of gratitude. Makino, braving a wobbly grin, sighed. She was the last to leave the stage. It was difficult to tell if she felt obliged by the crowd’s roar or the emotive experience she went through while performing, but Makino walked back and forth on the stage’s edge, shaking hands and blowing kisses. After several minutes, she bowed once more, blew a final kiss off her silver sparkle polished fingers, and turned slowly to leave, as if unsure herself if what took place was real, or if shows of that magnetism happen at all anymore.