review by Michael McCarthy
all photos by Joshua Bernard
When OK GO hit The Paradise stage in Boston on Wednesday night the crowd had no idea what it was in for. That is, of course, unless they’d been reading spoilers online. Following a video clip featuring iconic movies and TV shows that ended with Kermit the Frog introducing the band, they kicked off the night with the insanely catchy “Upside Down & Inside Out,” which happens to be the opening track of their excellent forthcoming album Hungry Ghosts, due out on October 14th. What’s most noteworthy about this, however, is the fact that the band performed it from behind a screen with computerized images of their faces appearing on the screen, singing the song. These images were mostly distorted, like those on the cover of Hungry Ghosts, and they came and went every other second. Sometimes all four members were on the screen (often merged into one face). The next moment, just one. Sometimes the images would go from being distorted to clear and back again. It’s just the sort of thing you’d expect from a band that’s almost as famous for their videos as they are for their music. It was also a way for them to bring the feel of a major arena show to the club. And the screen stayed up for their second track, displaying green shapes that resembled laser images during the contagious classic “You’re So Damn Hot,” which had the majority of the sold out club singing along.
The screen finally dropped as the band began their third song, “The Writing’s on the Wall,” one of the four songs from Hungry Ghosts that were released earlier this year as the Upside Out EP, all four of which were performed during the show. Just seconds after the screen vanished, two people on opposite sides of the club blew confetti over the crowd with what I’m going to call confetti guns; when turned on, they shot out large bursts of confetti-filled air, flooding the place with far more confetti than you get when it falls from the ceiling at big arena shows. As the song continued, and later as the show progressed, they blasted more and more confetti out over us. All different colors, too. So many times I lost count. No kidding. There was so much of it that lead vocalist Damian Kulash actually wound up with pieces of it in his mouth a few times. In fact, by the end of the show, the stage was so covered with confetti that you couldn’t see the floor of the stage anymore, just all of these bright pastel colors (pink, yellow, green, etc). I know this because I was up on the balcony, looking down at the stage.
About halfway through the show it was audience participation time as Damian revealed his smart phone and said that we were going to help them make music with it. First, he had everybody stomp and recorded it. Then he had us clap. Finally, he had us more or less hiss to mimic the sound of a high hat. Once that was all done — we had to do the hiss a few times to get it right; I blame our Boston accents — he took the recordings and looped them in such a way as to mimic the sound of drums. And then band used this percussion, along with a dash of keyboards and little percussion instruments, as the music for their performance of “There’s a Fire” from their self-titled album. Although I understand that they’re doing this regularly on their current tour, it made everyone in the audience feel, well, special, because it made us part of something. In some small way it was like we all became honorary members of the band.
Another thing that made the audience feel appreciated was when they did Q&A a couple of times during the show, actually taking questions from the audience and answering them. To that end, Damian was quite the improvisational comedian. For example, somebody asked about Japan after he’d said that they’d just made their new video there. Instead of talking about the video shoot, Damian recited a history of U.S. and Japan relations. You had to be there, I’m sure, but believe me when I say that it was hilarious.
As their set progressed, I found myself thinking about how masterful each of the band’s members are, each doing his job expertly, bringing songs like “Get Over It,” “I’m Not Through” and “Skyscrapers” to life and making it look easy. In addition to his fine vocals, which continue to have one of the nicest tones I’ve ever heard, Damian is a fantastic guitar player, giving the band a powerful guitar sound along with the equally impressive guitarist/keyboardist Andy Ross. And then you have the extremely tight rhythm section consisting of the heavy-hitting drummer/percussionist Dan Konopka and bass guitar wizard Tim Nordwind, the latter of which also plays keyboards and contributes backing vocals.
I’m a big fan of the band’s 2011 live album 180/365, but each of the songs on that record were recorded on different dates at different locations. I believe they did this to cover their whole tour around the world, but, obviously, they would have chosen the best performances of each of the songs. Needless so say I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d be that spectacular live. Well, trust me, they were. In fact, they were actually even better than on the live album. I suppose that’s because it was recorded in 2010 and they have another four years of playing and writing songs together under their belts now. In any case, I’m quite happy that I was among those to attend the Beantown show and I highly recommend that you see them when they come to your area.