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all words: William Alberque
all photos: Shauna Alexander

I was excited to see a live performance by the Horrors, focusing on Skying – by far my favorite album of 2011.  Early indications of set lists from other shows indicated nothing on the menu from their debut album, Strange House – much to my relief. Strange House is like that embarrassing first girlfriend you had in high school – understandable in context, but something we’d all like to forget. I had the good fortune of interviewing the (surprisingly funny) Joshua Hayward of the Horrors a few days before their DC show, and spoke briefly with Faris afterward, but I never got to thank them for yet another high point in a year of amazing shows.

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A lot of people seemed to like the opener, Stepkids. I heard someone compare them to Emerson Lake and Palmer – which, and I’m illustrating my own biases here, is akin to comparing a band to the sound of a badly backed-up toilet.

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I certainly think they embodied that metaphor, with awful, bloated songs, full of boredom and sighs gurgling forth.  Nice light, show, though.

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And then to the Horrors.  Oh, bliss, what sounds we heard! They kick off with the instant classic of Skying lead track “Changing the Rain,” the baggie beats (think King Biscuit Time’s “I Walk the Earth” with euphoric joy magnified to a planetary scale), and, after some initial problems with the sound, the crowd is soaring when the song turns with *that* irresistible beat and flanged vocals.

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Following with Primary Colours’  “Who Can Say” is almost unfair.  Suffice it to say that the ability to resists jumping up and down to this song could be used as evidence of paralysis.  Or deafness.  Or not recognizing really, really amazing music.  From the very outset of the chainsaw guitar paired with the massively aggressive drum line in the opening, the audience howls with delight and those who remember that dancing at shows is allowed begin hopping in unison.

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And then, when the breakdown in the middle of the song arrives: “And when I told her I didn’t love her any more, she cried.  And when I told her, her kisses were not like before, she cried.  And when I told her about the girl that caught my eye, she cried.  And then I kissed her with a kiss that could only mean goodbye,” and those icy keyboards and galloping drum line took me to the finish line, I had to gasp in awe.  We are only two songs in…

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“I Can See Through You” follows immediately, and I barely have time to catch my breath before I’m shouting the lyrics at the top of my lungs – the instrumental building crescendo in the first minute is all the respite I have before Faris delivers one of his most seductive, assured vocals.  This is a band at the majestic peak of their skills, and the relative calm of “Scarlet Fields” and “Dive in” gives me a chance to breathe, to get another drink, and prepare myself for the next group of songs.

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“Three Decades,” with its sea-sick distorted opening, and tremoloed guitar howls like a hurricane at the window, and the frenzied pace has the audience dancing again.  It’s too short (under three minutes no Primary Colours), but a beautiful illustration that I am at a show that I will not soon forget.

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They follow with another stormer from Skying, “Endless Blue,” a song that changes and morphs halfway through into a dreamy, droney classic, picking up speed until its crashing end.  Unlike some other dates on the tour, “Monica Gems” startling opening guitar rift sees me racing to the front to join in what I hope will be an endless ruck to Skying’s most aggressive moments.

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It’s not quite to be, but there are enough of us to jump up and down to the massive waves of distortion, howling out of the speakers to enjoy ourselves.  It’s such brilliant songwriting, such amazing collaborative noisemaking, I want to savor it. The only thing that could have improved it would have been a full live horn section to play the outro, but I’m not complaining.

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Then, they follow it up –  oh, lord, with “Sea within a Sea.” This song would make Stereolab proud – or Neu! – with its metronomic drums and epic scale.  Throw in some dissonance in the buildup to the most perfect Kraut rock keyboard line in 20 years before the band joins in the crashing assault, and you have a live experience that has just notched up to 11.  And, there’s still more.

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The Horrors end the proper set with “Still Life,” the first song I’d heard from the new album. Live, it provides all the bombast and beauty of New Gold Dream-era Simple Minds, all summer beauty and epic scope.  I’m practically in tears of joy – I could hardly have chosen a set list for them to play more illustrative of everything I love about this band then the one they played.

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They let an instrumental passage cover for the artificiality of the encore break, and come back to play “Mirror’s Image” and “Moving Further Away.” Neither is as good as what came before, but it’s a pleasing let-off from the unremitting beauty of the rest of the set.

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Euphoric with happiness, I did my best not to pester Faris – he played pinball in the Red Room, trying his best to shut everything else out – but failed.  I had to ask him to sign some singles and tried to draw him into a conversation.  I feel bad – he deserves his autonomy after a performance like that – but not so bad that I didn’t try.  Ah well, at least I have some lovely signed singles and a memory to treasure.

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