It's Friday night at the Showbox and there's a singer on stage waltzing through "My Favorite Things" from The Sound Of Music and at the end of her final stanza, the band behind her crash in and a Danny Brown verse recited by Spank Rock (perhaps one of the only rappers who could conceivably match Brown's penchant for debauchery). And then the band is covering The Clash's "The Guns of Brixton". And then they're on the next track, vamping on the lyric "she wicked" for a good four minutes. And this just the first twenty minutes of what The Avalanches, the storied sample-jacking, song-smashing Aussie outfit, are as a live unit in 2017.
As a musical project, The Avalanches' closest relative will always be Paul's Boutique, but as a live band, they're like Gorillaz' spunkier, lower-budget cousin. Where Damon Albarn uses widescreen visuals and whatever guest vocalists he can bring in for a given show, the Melbourne duo pares things down to a drummer, a guitarist/bassist, and a keyboard/sample manager and then just give their singer more booze. Making the bold decision to let live vocalists handle a mixture of replicating samples and adapting vocal lines, The Avalanches have more or less discarded their DJ credentials for this tour and fully embraced the concept of being a live band, and Eliza Wolfgramm, who handled most of the vocals on the evening, is their hardly-secret weapon. Feisty and almost aggressively affable, Wolfgramm channels all of the restless energy of Wildflower, the unexpectedly real (and unexpectedly great) followup to their landmark debut Since I Left You. Despite being onstage with Spank Rock, a charismatic and underrated MC by any measure, Wolfgramm was the group's de facto frontwoman all night, jumping up and down and wailing over the band's rhythms. At the end of an absolutely vicious "Flight Tonight" -- if the band knew '90s breakbeats performed by a live drummer would age so well, they should've gone on tour earlier -- Wolfgramm shouted out her fellow alcohol consumers to the biggest cheer of the night. (Was it planned that she did this after the song where she got to shout "she's wicked" a hundred times or just excellent timing?)
Scrappy and brief as it was -- at just about an hour, it was certainly on the short end for a headline performance -- the Avalanches' live show is a curious beast. Unlike either of their albums, which beg to be dissected over several listens, their performance at the Showbox was far more direct. Almost everything was centered around Paris Jeffree's sublime drumming, and combined with Wolfgramm's frenetic persona, the Avalanches have rarely felt more immediate, especially on the Wildflower tracks performed that evening. (In fact, the Wildflower tracks almost consistently got a better response than the Since I Left You tracks, and the tracks from the latter album that did erupt were album cuts "Flight Tonight", "Avalanche Rock", and "Radio" -- not the singles.) There's no telling when the Avalanches' next release will come out -- band member Robbie Chater has stated their intention to release songs much sooner than the 16-year gap between albums, but that's a low bar -- but for the moment, the Aussie duo are coming good on the globe-party-hopping reputation that they built at the turn of the century and then left behind for 15 years.
In its 21st year, Capitol Hill Block Party feels more like a party than ever. The first day alone proved that people were willing to forgo their post-work tiredness and rage in the streets to Run The Jewels, Wolf Parade, and Mura Masa. CHBP may have the budget to keep bringing in larger and large...