Though they’ve always played up their nerdiness to an exaggerated degree, the aging process had added a little extra oomph to Hot Chip’s anti-star charisma. Last night on Late Night, the established English electro squad performed “Don’t Deny Your Heart” from their latest record, In Our Heads. The record itself (though undeniably well-crafted) has proven really tough to get into, for me at least. The garish electro bursts, the repetitive drill-bit ear-worms that they do best, seem a little muted on it. And though it’s slick and composed, I can’t seem to find the big, undeniable single that matches something as svelte and sweet as “One Life Stand” (beloved enough to be a memorable dance-floor filler at my wedding, even). Which is why I considered the live performance of that single as sort of a non-event, before the unexpected recoil caused by watching it. So now I have to dissect it for a second…
Hot Chip’s developing elder statesman phase has begun to resemble a group of dentists, practiced up to play the big convention. And while that description covers the stray Hawaiian shirt, nothing can quite prepare you for whatever it is that singer Alexis Taylor is attempting. A half-poncho/bib thing, which seems to be designed only to trick people into thinking you are wearing a denim dress shirt under a sports coat. (I refuse to believe that’s even “a British thing.”) Combined with the front-loaded wall of keyboard players, just a few capes shy of some sort of Rick Wakeman fiasco, and they really present the most gawky, least glamorous music star image possible. In an era where every aspect of “nerddom” has been adopted, glammed up, had its librarian’s hair shaken down by hip, mainstream culture, these guys still managed to make at least one audience member feel sort of weirdly uncomfortable for them, while being musical guests on the most zeitgeist-y late night TV show around. It’s too awkward to even have the feel of knowing ironic goofery. They’ve skipped past Devo and landed on a Devo audience, circa 2005! It’s totally amazing, really.
As the song progressed, and the synths stretched out and the melody opened up; as ace guitarist Al Doyle became their third drummer (and the first to really register on the song), I was left appreciating their continual rope-a-dope. How the weirdly off-putting nature of this as our electro/R&B/pop band became totally heart-warming in the natural ease of the three-guitar shake-out that ended it. I’m well aware of their whole persona, yet I still found myself moved by the easy comfort of those abject dorks being so naturally groovy, somehow. They seemed totally heroic to me again.
But even as I slipped into acceptance and glee, a dark thought entered. These guys looked like dads to start. If anything, they’ll only seem more comfortably dorky going forward. But what happens to the fashionably gawky, the geek chic, as they progress into middle-aged career acts? What of the 50-year old chillwavers, their neon pink caps now covering bald spots, as they manage to cling to summer festival spots in 2030? The aging of the 00s/10s music scene really isn’t going to be pretty is it?