Fresh out of Control
When a guitarist hopped onstage at the Elbow Room carrying a hot-pink translucent electric guitar, I knew Child Bite was going to put on a show. My intuition wasn't wrong, but I had no idea that show would stamp such a lasting, surrealist impression.
First of all, the lead vocalist looked possessed, with bugged-out eyes and jerky spastic movements, and he sprinkled his performance with odd little hand gestures-at one point I won-dered if he might be cleaning out his ears. I say "vocalist" because "singer" would be misleading. Though occasionally melodic-and composed, I'm pretty sure, of words-the sound coming out of his mouth is something beyond singing: not growling and screaming, but insistent, high-pitched, not-quite-squeals.
The chaotic vocals were balanced by unconventional hooks, most often from the guitar and brass. Saxophonist Christian Doble utterly reclaims this instrument for the hardcore side of cool. His fast, loud, in-your-face, rhythmic playing bears absolutely no relation to smooth jazz (and will never be heard over a candlelit dinner).
The rest of the band's sound equally defies categorization. These musicians press violently against the boundaries of any genre one might use to describe them, although if Deerhoof and Wolf Parade had an angry baby, it might sound like Child Bite. They have a postpunk affinity for marginal electronic instruments like theremins and joysticks, but the innovation and so-phistication of their most recent album, Fantastic Gusts of Blood, veer more toward the pretensions of art-rock.
The theme of the night, like the name of their album, seemed to be tongue-in-cheek violence and bizarre imagery. At one point, a dude from the audience hopped onstage with a giant teddy bear and began dry-humping its fluffy little brains out. The band didn't miss a beat: one member joined in the mock gang bang, and the others kept on rolling as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile, girls in Bermuda shorts and Empire-waisted minidresses danced as if they were watching American Bandstand circa 1965. I was twice hit
by tambourines the guitarist threw into the crowd. (I never imagined the soft jingle of tambourines would rise above the din, but ten or fifteen of them in the audience made a surprising-and pleasant-contribution.)
Supposedly it was someone's birthday and, therefore, cause for extra revelry, but I suspect shenanigans are a common occurrence at Child Bite shows. Regardless, these guys-and every-one else in the bar-were having a really good time. Though part of this spectacle was most definitely rehearsed (after all, these dudes weren't improvising), spontaneity reverberated as loudly as the finger-tingling noise coming from the amps. The ambience, like the music, marked a refreshing departure from the usual indie-rock show.
Child Bite headlines a show at the Elbow Room on Wednesday, March 11, and opens a show at the Blind Pig on Saturday, March 14.
[Originally published in March, 2009.]