Checking the signboard outside the Funhouse on Thursday, Feb. 2, we determined that the lone presence behind the keyboards was called Slowdanse. "Goth karaoke?" my friend offered. The floor was almost as sparsely populated as the stage, and the singer's dark droning vocals made him seem even more alone. The situation required some sort of diagnosis. As if confirming the one my friend offered, Slowdanse then wrapped up his opening set with a one-man cover of Joy Division's "She's Lost Control."
It was a good 45 minutes before boy/girl Berlin-by-way-of-Oakland synth/punk duo the Sixteens got their myriad effects pedals, keyboards, and multiknobbed apparatuses correctly arranged, and yet the crowd had not grown much in number. It's always a bummer when the person onstage has gone to the trouble of locating blue sequined hot pants, 4-inch stack heels, an eye patch, and black tights ripped just so and only a handful of people show up to bear witness. On the other hand, because Kristen Louise and Vueve Pauli play piercing dystopian dance hits—and because of the whole, you know, Berlin thing, the abandoned bomb shelter vibe worked just fine.
The band's art-damaged self-titled debut album contains a gem whose vocal hook is a dually delivered deadpan, sluggish "We need groceries." That record contains live drums and guitars played with haute-couture unschooled apathy. Subsequent releases had the pair, who are indeed a couple, moving toward a completely electronic, keyboard-based, Euro sound. I wasn't prepared to love the live version of their current direction although I do hate the sound of my voice saying, "I like their older stuff better." I was surprised, then, to warm up to the sound of Louise's operatic vocals shot down an echo chamber and forked to death with jarring, shrill keyboard notes from the bottom half of the instrument. It helped, at least aesthetically, that the band's trio of keyboards—and a suitcase full of drum noises—were set not on top of traditional stands but on walkers (as in, for the aged and otherly abled). Making the notes sound like metallic rain, Louise shrieked something about Aphrodite while Pauli created a thumping sound collage. When not vocalizing, Louise dipped and popped like a marionette mimicking Beyoncé in that ultrapink video. Check on it, indeed.
Toward the end of the set, just as Louise looked ready to break character, Pauli began coaxing thunderous beats from his machinery and chanting paranoid one-liners in a way that recalled Tuxedomoon. "Keep the mast pulled tight," he repeated. With her back to him, Louise seemed to give in, babbling at the wall like those crazy ladies on the bus.
Their voices dovetailed disjointedly, disarmingly. I like the new stuff, too.