It's easy to describe Autolux by placing them alongside the big names they have toured with: Queens of the Stone Age, the White Stripes, Secret Machines, Nine Inch Nails. It's easier to place the L.A.-based trio's music–a moody mix of shoegaze, dream pop and '90s alt-rock–alongside underrated luminaries like My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. For the uninitiated, these comparisons loom large; for Autolux fans at the Observatory on Wednesday, they were irrelevant.
The band took to the Observatory's Constellation Room stage while the eponymous opening track from their 2010 album, Transit Transit, played through the P.A., marking the first time this writer has seen a band start a show with the recorded version of one of their own songs. The relatively short set – just a dozen songs, including the encore – was generously filled out by lead singer and bassist Eugene Goreshter's effect pedal freak-outs and guitarist Greg Edwards' layered guitar constructions. Autolux on stage is sometimes less like a rock show and more like a plate-spinning competition – the band whirred between instruments, pedal boards and vocal parts so furiously they almost didn't have time to dance to their own music.
Wednesday night was one of a few local dates Autolux scheduled to prepare for a pair of arena shows in Canada as Nine Inch Nails' opening band, drummer Carla Azar said in a recent interview with the Santa Barbara Independent. (Autolux is playing at a club in Santa Barbara tonight, if you've got nothing else to do today.) A few cracks showed in the band's unflappable, cool-L.A.-musician façade during this warm-up mini-tour, including one pregnant pause mid-song where the music faded out, Azar flashed an oh-shit grin and quickly stick-counted the band back into sync.
The band has been active for a dozen years and released just two albums, 2004's Future Perfect and Transit in 2010, but their collective fingerprints are smudged all over some of the most interesting music of the last two decades. Azar, who has banged skins for John Frusciante, PJ Harvey, Bright Eyes and Jack White's solo band, brought Goreshter together with Failure and Lusk guitarist Greg Edwards to form Autolux in 2000. Since then, Autolux has played Coachella and several All Tomorrow's Parties events, as well as shows with the Flaming Lips, Thom Yorke's Atoms for Peace and Portishead.
The unquestionable anchor of the band is Azar, who's world-class drumming chops keep the songs grounded in rock-and-roll grit while her mates drone and fuzz around her. Azar famously shattered her elbow in 2002 in a fall from the stage after Autolux opened for Elvis Costello, which led to experimental surgery and eight titanium screws in her arm. Watching her play, it's easy to picture Azar as a music-minded cyborg – her arms snap tautly from snare to cymbal with little follow-through or recoil, Terminator-style, killing fills like the Governator hunting down John Connor.
At the end of both the main set and the encore, Goreshter slipped offstage first, leaving Azar to bash away indifferently and Edwards toe-tapping his way through his bevy of pedals. The remaining two followed their singer into the darkness quickly thereafter, as Autolux, it seemed, was already ready to hit the road.
Crowd: Overflowing into the lobby and heavy on zip-up-sweatshirts, since it was raining, which made everyone look like Michael Cera. The occasional longhaired music-head and leggings-and-boots-wearing girlfriend rounded out the room.
Overheard: Girl: “I'm just saying, guy energy on stage is different than girl energy.” Guy: “Well, that's just because you're used to generic guy energy.”
Notebook Dump: All three Autolux members wore some variation of the same shoulder-length haircut, adding to my theory that to become a true rock star, you need to seek out some secret stylist sequestered somewhere in Silver Lake and sell your soul wholesale. Also, Edwards' facial hair makes him look a little bit like Peter Dinklage. Except, you know… taller.
Audience No. 2
New Song #1
The Science of Imaginary Solutions
New Song #2
Capital Kind of Strain