New York indie sophisticates Blonde Redhead are hitting San Francisco for two nights this week on a strange and unique musical mission. They aren't in the middle of a tour. They have no promotional schedule to speak of. Their most recent album of idiosyncratic mood music, 23, was released more than two years ago. Sure, they're in the early stages of writing a follow-up, but no one knows when that might be released, not even their PR rep. Indeed, if it wasn't for the dubious claim that their gig is being held as part of the Bicycle Film Festival (yeah, that's right, a film festival) then they would be crossing the country for absolutely no reason at all.
Just think: a rare chance to see a bunch of musicians from out of town play music for the sake of playing music. What is the world coming to? Someday you'll want to tell your kids about this extraordinary event.
But isn't this exactly how things are supposed to be happening in our brave new online world? Last we heard, the internet was on the verge of creating an artist-controlled nirvana where albums are irrelevant and it's all about live shows and ringtone downloads. Bands are meant to be popping into town at all sorts of odd times, Twittering word of their arrival in between posting new tracks on Myspace. Or something. Except back here in Reality Land not very much has changed, and most artists are stuck in the same old alternating trudge of creating product and peddling merchandise.
Thankfully, a few artists are beginning to break the mold, and it's fitting that -- this week at least -- Blonde Redhead are among them. They are, after all, an unusual band, and not just because of their off-kilter saturnine sound. Having eased the harsh discordance and buzzing distortion of their earlier albums, they now come across like the soundtrack to some imagined noirish art-house movie. But the most unusual thing about them is less where their music has ended up, and more the fact it has changed at all. In an age when so many acts seem to fast-forward through early hype to premature burnout, Blonde Redhead started out the old-fashioned way, taking time to mature and develop before appearing on the main stage as if by stealth (which is pretty much how they're going to show up again this week).