Minimalism in indie pop is a difficult thing to pull off. It really only works when it’s the considered, self-conscious kind—if you’re going for little instrumentation or subtle expression, you better figure out how to proceed in a way that moves people as much as, maybe more than, the fuller and the louder. Frankie Rose’s new album, Interstellar, was as much a smooth, concentrated distillation of her own songwriting as it was a move away from the easily relatable, bashing lo-fi of her earlier work. The problem: Unwittingly, she might have moved too far in the opposite direction. Tuesday night’s show at the Knitting Factory was minimalism at its worst.
To her credit, Frankie Rose is an excellent songwriter. The melodies on Interstellar are gorgeous and unexpected, and they’ve got a haunting, echoing quality that makes you feel like you’re overhearing someone cry her heart out in a cave. A really well-produced cave. It works. I found myself getting into it on the strength of those melodies. The mechanical emptiness of the non-acoustic instruments, the breathiness and air pressed into her vocals, it all invited me to fill the space with my own warm, listening self. I had to work a bit harder to get there, but when I did, I found myself completely immersed in a lovely, Frankie Rose-tinted world. Thing is, a live show shouldn’t make you regret liking something on headphones.
The Knit was packed with people, most of whom were already familiar with Interstellar. After all, the internet’s been positively a-buzz with rave reviews. But at a certain point, there seemed to be a sigh of collective “womp.” The spare, few-note guitar lines on the album didn’t translate live. There just wasn’t that much going on musically, and the projection behind the band didn’t do much to fill the void. It was nice to hear Frankie’s voice at times strain for its operatic potential—I think she’s the kind of musician I’d love to hear alone in a bathroom, just wailing. A more complex Interstellar song like “Moon in My Mind,” worked out a little bit better—the cascading harmonies in round, a live pulse of a bass, and the occasional jolt of a harsh, surf-rock strum injected some life into the set, and yet, I felt the band could have done more.
But, the ultimate let-down was simple: It was the amount of time the band played. Frankie Rose, the headliner at her own album release show, was up on stage for less than half an hour, including an encore. When the band left the stage, the audience was audibly confused. “That’s a set, right?” Rose asked one of her band members on the way out. And, after the band came up to play the encore, the most lively and enjoyable song of the whole set, (“Candy” by Rose’s old band, Frankie Rose and the Outs), she told the audience, “I know it’s short, but you guys try coming up here!”
Yikes. The whole show, however, wasn’t a bust. DIVE’s infectious jamming captivated the audience. It’s difficult not to love a bunch of guys who get up on stage in sweatpants (okay, only guitarist Andrew Baily was wearing sweatpants) and who look and sound like they’re having the times of their lives. Who cares if all the songs kind of sound the same? I’d go to a five hour DIVE show if they kept swinging around their guitars and getting hopscotch-happy-feet the entire time. Plus, DIVE’s reliable, chugging, winding and intertwining guitar-centric tunes are the chicken soup to my six-string soul. Night Manager also delivered some positive garage-pop energy, especially with the crunchy, howling, “Platonic Lovers,” a b-side released on their new Rough Trade 7”, Ghost. As for Frankie Rose, perhaps her band will hone their live show in time.
You can follow Sydney Brownstone on Twitter @sydbrownstone