Legendary Pink Dots: Connecting With the Dots in Chapel Hill

Unpredictable and experimental as always, The Legendary Pink Dots make a concerted and successful bid to connect with their audiences.

Cutting a swath through the USA’s eastern seaboard — mostly by way of tiny clubs — the Legendary Pink Dots appeared in the dark, humid confines of Chapel Hill’s Local 506 this night to a near-capacity crowd. And while in this case capacity means only about 120 people, LPD went to extraordinary lengths to reach out to every single one.

LPD performed a roughly ninety-minute set that featured several tracks from their latest, Your Children Placate You from Premature Graves. While the most consistent thing about the Dots’ music is that it changes wildly from album to album, this latest disc is among the group’s most accessible efforts. In this live setting, the songs took on a more organic, immediate feel. The Legendary Pink Dots’ music this time around is an alluring combination of melody and electronics, of song and experimentation.

Photo © Willa Stein Photography
With the sonic underpinnings of keyboard player Phil Knight (a.k.a. the silverman), consisting of multilayered, multi-textured loops, drones and gurgling synth melodies, a trancey vibe was established. With no drummer, responsibility for beats fell to the silverman, though often as not the cumulative effect of all the players provided a suitable and effective beat without the need for actual (or ersatz) percussion.

Martijn de Kleer alternated throughout the evening on electric and acoustic guitars as well as bass. His fretwork was a fascinating mix of rhythmic playing and fills; de Kleer’s approach was not so much to solo as to expand on the group’s overall sonic attack. Vocalist Edward Ka-Spell was resplendent in a cassock and scarf, rendering him visually evocative of some cross between John Lydon and Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs. Ka-Spell’s vocals ran the range from near-whispers to hypnotic chants and back again, often in a single song. The musical emphasis was on playing songs rather than exploratory jamming, though the arrangements had enough air to allow plenty of showcase solo spots.

Most of those solos went to the engaging Niels van Hoornblower. He worked as hard at establishing connections with the crowd as he did on playing his variety of instruments (including two saxes, flute and a wind-controlled oscillator/synthesizer). With his shaven head, square-frame glasses and harlequin suit, he looked every bit the part of a court jester. And van Hoornblower went out of his way to make eye contact with every member of the audience within visual range, one at a time. Making use of a wireless connection, he strolled out into the crowd — which parted as if welcoming a prophet — and kept right on playing. On several occasions he leaned his instrument within inches of a (usually female) fan’s face as his lyrical notes poured out of the sax. Niels’ playing — ace to begin with — only seemed to improve from the effect of the positive vibes sent back his way from the audience. The rest of the group went about the business of playing, not seeming to much mind — or notice — van Hoornblower’s interplay with the crowd.

The sound mix (provided by the group’s own traveling sound man) was clear and well balanced, and of a suitable volume for such a small club. In fact the Legendary Pink Dots were perhaps a (welcome) third quieter than openers Veronique Diabolique, a goth/noise quartet with an amusingly fabricated backstory.

Lyrically, the LPD material was as dark as ever, occasionally reminding this listener of nothing so much as Final Cut-era Pink Floyd. In a somewhat perverse (yet not unwelcome) turn of events, the chant on “No Matter What You Do,” with its terrified paean to an ominous god became a crowd sing-along number.

During the encore, as if to underscore the intimate communion the audience shared with the band, van Hoornblower unhooked his saxophone’s mic and played acoustically to the hushed, stunned crowd. And after the show, all four members of the Legendary Pink Dots mingled with the crowd, back-slapping, hand shaking and conversing animatedly.

The group’s love of playing for its own sake (and for the connection with sympathetic listeners) was palpable that sultry night. For a band touring in celebration of its 25th anniversary as a performing unit, one might hope for a grander reception than this, for more commercial success, for something greater than mere underground admiration. But if the band held any of those concerns, they kept it to themselves. To a man they performed and carried themselves as if there was nowhere in the world they would have rather been than Chapel Hill’s Local 506.