“10pm show on a Thursday? I guess I need to go because I bought a ticket. It’s not like I don’t dig Autolux, but the new album wasn’t anything remarkably transcendent and besides, how is shoegaze space rock going to play live? I don’t want to go to a show that’s going to put me to sleep. I’m tired enough already and they’re not going to hit the stage until at least 11:30, but I bought a ticket and I haven’t been to a show in a while. It’s Thursday, at least I’ll find a place to park for free. I just won’t get there for doors. In fact I’ll get there a little after 10. It’s not going to fill up until after the second opener anyway so if I show up a little late I’ll still have a good place in the crowd.”
This was my thought process going into the Autolux show at Emo’s outdoor stage this past Thursday. Not really enthusiastic, but not quite reluctant. By the end of the night the band and the crowd would have changed my tune in a way that’s only possible with great live music.
I began following Autolux 10 years ago when they dropped their first direct purchase self-titled EP. I had just finished college at the time and was still living in Boston. As a fan of Failure (the most influential band you’ve never heard of) I had been following both Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards careers since the band broke up in the late 90’s. Ken Andrews had just released his first solo effort as “On” while Greg had previously been involved with the band “Lusk”. I had heard about Autolux through the Failure network grapevine as it turned out this was Greg’s new thing. “Autolux” was a great EP reminiscent of the spacier aspects of Failure, with distinctive shoegazey element. It was a low key assault; unassuming, unaffected, self-aware, but not pretentious, and incredibly tight. The opener “Turnstile Blues” grabs you immediately with its distinctive drum line and the rest of the EP doesn’t let go until the feedback fade out of “Future Perfect”.
4 years later it was 2004 and in the interim I had moved away from and then back to Boston as Autolux’s first full-length (and commercial release) “Future Perfect” came out. It featured a couple tracks from the self-titled EP and a host of new songs including spacier songs like “Great Days for the Passenger Element” and “Plantlife”. I recall being very much into this album at the time, listening to it on the bus that winter while on the way to and from work. If ever my interest in seeing this band live had been piqued, now was the time, but Autolux rarely seemed to tour ... at least not outside of their native California. In fact it seemed that Autolux was as anti-commercial as a band could get; art rock to the extreme. In either case the album came and went in my rotation, occasionally coming out for replays of my more favored tracks, but like everything else it eventually faded into the background of my music collection and I eventually gave up on ever seeing Autolux perform live. In fact I pretty much gave up on ever hearing anything new from Autolux again; such seemed their indifference to putting out any new product.
For 6 years as I moved from Boston to Virginia to Austin, nary a peep was heard from Autolux with the exception of a couple tracks produced for James Lavelle’s UNKLE project on the industrial-themed “War Stories” album of 2007 and 2010’s more trip-hoppy “Where Did the Night Fall”. Then in the beginning of August of this year, Autolux’s second full length “Transit Transit” dropped almost out of nowhere.
Seemingly defying all logic, Autolux presented an almost unbroken thread between this release and their previous effort 6 years prior. The sound was less spacey, but retained the same identity as both the first full-length and EP. Perhaps the only thing that changed is the music scene itself. In many ways, today’s scene is much more interested in a release like Transit Transit than they would have been even a few years ago. Autolux had always had a niche, only now upon returning to the public with new material they found the field broader and perhaps more accepting. Whether that had anything to do with the small-venue headlining tour I can’t say, but if the crowd at Emo’s on Thursday night was any indication, it was a good move.
Back to Thursday night: I arrived at Emo’s outdoor stage around quarter after 10. The first opening act was just about finishing as a purchased an Autolux t-shirt (my wardrobe of T’s being primarily band and game related) and found myself a good place to stand for the rest of the show. The second opening act “Gold Panda” was decent, but a little too hipster for my tastes: hip-hop infused techno noise by a white guy with a beard on a Mac. Hate the scene … not the scenester. Eventually Autolux went on shortly after 11:40 and started off with “The Science of Imaginary Solutions”, an unassuming track from their new album, then launched into what was (I didn’t realize until I heard it live) one of the more rocking tunes on the new album. The real kicker for this second song and several others throughout the night was that they didn’t just play it out, they jammed on it, something I was not expecting from this band. It was a great energy builder for what I feared would have ended up being a night of swaying rather than rocking and everything just built from there.
The rest of the show followed in similar fashion, with a decent mix of old and new material, all amplified and enhanced by a performance that was as unaffected and unassuming as the band’s image, but just as enthralling. Even better than the band themselves was the crowd. I know why I’m at the show; I’m a former Failure fan who will always religiously follow the works of Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards. The enthusiasm (and relative age) of the crowd spoke to something much bigger however. These were people who were Autolux fans before (or if) they ever heard of Failure or these were people who checked out a random show on suggestion and found something they totally dug. In either case, the band picked up on that energy and ran with it, coming back for a 3 song encore that was both unexpected and appreciated.
All told, it was a great evening despite the late hour, and as always it was amazing to get out and hear something live. I don’t care what it is, but music always sounds better live and while I tend to forget that when I’m on my way out the door, I remember immediately when the first sounds start coming out of the stage amps. My thanks go out to Autolux and the excellent fans at Emo’s Thursday night for a seriously rocking show. I hope it’s not another 6 years before I get to hear new tracks or see them live again.