Operators. Lost Lake. 04.01.16
It is hard to believe Apologies to the Queen Mary was released over a decade ago. Sometimes it seems like just yesterday, but it also feels like I grew up on the dueling voices of Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug. Wolf Parade cemented itself as one of the most important bands in my life, despite first discovery to indefinite hiatus only spanning five years. The first time I saw them perform live was at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco in 2007; the last time was at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago in 2010. During that time, I was lucky enough to catch (one of Krug’s many other projects) Sunset Rubdown perform in those two cities as well. I regrettably missed Boeckner and his wife as Handsome Furs at Larimer Lounge due to being overserved the night before, but after the demise of all three bands, I was content to rely on Moonface and Divine Fits performances to sate my appetite for what had been lost. That will all change when Boeckner and Krug reunite with Arlen Thompson and Dante DeCaro at the Bowery Ballroom in New York next month. Yes, I will there. But for those who can’t make the trip out (or were unable to get tickets), Operators served as the next best thing at an intimate, sold-out show in Denver on Friday night.
Operators were just a name when they opened for Future Islands at the Gothic Theatre in 2014, but as soon as Boeckner opened his mouth during the first track from their EP1, I immediately knew who he was. That distinct voice could belong to no other. The set showed promise as a guitar-driven, synth-heavy electro mix between Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade, but it was too short to do anything but drive expectations as to what would come next. The Lost Lake Lounge performance met and exceeded those expectations. Performing in front of 150 people on the day they released their debut album, Blue Wave, Operators were surprisingly tight for a band who hadn’t been performing the songs for any length of time. Boeckner was also surprisingly humble for a man getting ready to play Coachella after selling out a Bowery residency in mere minutes. And the audience, who couldn’t have been familiar with many of the tracks being performed, were surprisingly hyped. Backed by (Divine Fits drummer) Sam Brown, (solo synth artist) Devojka, and a bassist, Boeckner sported a black blazer and grey beard as he introduced the album to the packed house. “This is fucking crazy! Thank you all for coming out tonight!”
The set consisted of a perfect mixture of punked-out rockers and electronic dance anthems. Inspired by ‘80s electro-pop, as well as the more aggressive post-punk/hardcore from that era, the performance brought me back to the days of watching MTV’s 120 Minutes after returning home from a Fugazi show. When he wasn’t abusing his guitar, Boeckner was like an animal trapped in a small cage, sticking his head out as far as he could to get a better look at his captors, all while wrapping his mic around himself like a comfort blanket. Honestly, the place was so packed I could only catch glimpses of him between the old fireplace I was standing next to and the tall man in front of me, but as his voice sonically skipped over each chord (just as it did in Wolf Parade), I could see his movements being mimicked by those around me. “Does anyone have one of those creepy-ass Dennis Hopper Blue Velvet things? Just in case? I’m asking for my health, not because I’m fishing for nitrous.” Joking about the altitude that affects so many musicians who play the Mile High City, Devojka followed up Boeckner’s comment with a quick rendition of Giogorio Moroder’s “Take My Breath Away”. It was a funny little interlude, but if the band was experiencing any real effects from the elevation, they did nothing to show it.
Catching a brand new band perform live, especially one where most of their music had only been made available a few hours before the show, is a much different experience than going to see one of your favorite bands in concert. There is always the chance it will be a disaster. There is also the chance that your lack of knowledge (and expectations) will make for a night of exciting discovery. Operators are a brand new band, but they are led by a known entity. Wolf Parade was (is) so special because of the dynamic between the two voices. Krug brought a level of intelligence to the band. He was the cerebral one. Boeckner brought sex appeal and (as Handsome Furs proved) a little filth. The fact that both artists were able to find such success with the projects they decided to pursue after going their separate ways, just goes to show what immense talent they each possess. Operators continue that amazing run. The show was visceral and it sounded great, despite the venue essentially being a dive bar. I also feel like I discovered something new. I’ll never say I’m glad Wolf Parade went on hiatus, but I do think the world is a more interesting place because of the music that came out of their time apart. Thanks again Dan. See you in New York!
Shape of Things
Bring Me the Head