Everyone has seen a live visual presentation (i.e. Shakespeare in the Park), and everyone has heard a live audio presentation (i.e. WFMU). And most people have seen a TV show or a movie (i.e. Beavis and Butt-Head, Baby Mama). Some people have even been told they're being treated to an audiovisual presentation (i.e. Dark Side of the Moon Laser Light Shows). Until last week, I didn't think anyone had made an live audiovisual presentation that really truly was aural and visual at the same time, together. Then I saw Meat Beat Manifesto on Saturday at the Highline Ballroom.
Zillion-dollar budgets can give electronic music performers like Daft Punk and Kraftwerk an edge in creating visceral visual thrills at their concerts - you can't really do much more for a techno fan than have real robots playing a concert. But Meat Beat Manifesto has taken a well-worn and considerably less expensive approach - collaging video behind the performers onstage - and taken it to a new zenith of accomplishment in that medium.
Meat Beat mastermind Jack Dangers and Mark Pistel from the political hardcore band Consolidated stood onstage controlling the otherworldly jungle-dubstep-trance beats and squiggles, and at the far right live drummer Lynn Farmer kept incredible pace throughout the entire performance. On the far left stood Ben Stokes, the visual programmer for the show, who's worked with everyone from Ministry to Public Enemy to Levi's. He grabbed video samples of Captain Beefheart, old BBC Radiophonic Workshop-esque explanations of sonic technology, Dali's eye-cutting nightmare, The Invaders, Sammy Davis Jr., Harrison Ford as President James Marshall in Air Force One, Star Trek, Billie Holiday, and even Animal, playing in tandem with a live feed of the drummer.
Unlike so many other video shows, clips didn't just sit lay flat and stuttery in the background. They were accompanied by audio, and were layered over existing beats, scratched, stretched, and re-sampled in a way that fit in with the theme of the song - video of nuclear bomb blasts dropped to the beat, sounds and videos of Rastas burning weed edged their way into a drugs song (well, at least the one that referenced them the most overtly). Dangers and Stokes were always working together in the audiovisual realm, as well - you could almost imagine the behind-the-scenes dialogue: "Jack, I've found about 15 clips of people falling from the tops of buildings, can we work the sound of them screaming into the set?" or "Ben, could you work on finding a video of James Brown playing this one sample I use in this song?" Magic like that doesn't just pop out of a video mixer, or an audio mixer for that matter.
The most impressive part about the whole thing was Meat Beat's mastery in weaving overt political commentary into the show.