Hot Chip, over and over and live

“I suppose Americans are a bit more handsome and respectful,” said Owen Clarke, the guitarist and synth player of Hot Chip, comparing American audiences to his native British crowds.

“Not nearly as pissed,” added Felix Martin, the band’s mustached drum machine programmer. “Drunk, that is.”

“A bit less doughy too, perhaps,” Clarke continued, chuckling.

If by “respectful,” Clarke meant adoring, then he was right – even having never played a show in the District, Hot Chip played a nearly-sold out show at 9:30 Club to an eager audience.

“It’s strange to play an early show,” Martin said, commenting on their 8 p.m. set. “I hope people aren’t too stiff this time of night … It’s always better when people are dancing.”

The band had nothing to worry about. The packed, general-admission floor was a scattered mix of ravers, hipsters and electronic music geeks. The dancing seemed to match – some in attendance stood with their arms folded in the back of the room, while others, with hormones raging, grinded and gyrated as if it were prom night all over again.

Hot Chip, an electro-pop band from Britain, formed in 2000. Driven by the rich vocal harmonies of its two lead singers and a knack for infectious hooks, the band toured with LCD Soundsystem, Mylo and Stereolab. After the 2006 release of “The Warning,” its critically acclaimed sophomore album, they began to receive widespread attention in the U.S., driven by radio-ready singles like “Over and Over” and “And I Was a Boy From School.”

Having been a fan of the sharp, clever songwriting on “The Warning,” I couldn’t help but be mildly disappointed by their live show. Live electronic music can often be a sterile medium, and the band seemed to suffer from it, hunched over keyboards and sequencers rather than attempting to put on a visual, energetic performance. Occasionally, the addition of a live bongo or a guitar helped liven up the mood, but they always seemed to return to their stations, casually nodding their heads in rhythm. Particularly compared to Ratatat, a similarly electronic-based band, the show seemed monotonous, if not boring at times.

The sound, too, was lackluster – a rarity for 9:30 Club. Instead of the band’s warm vocal harmonies reigning supreme, the muffled and distorted low end of drum samples crushed everything in its path.

I did have great admiration for their bold song choices. Even with a fresh crowd in attendance, the band debuted over a half-dozen new originals, previously unheard by stateside audiences. The fans, luckily, lapped them up.

The highlight of the night was the set-closing hit “Over and Over,” which featured a climactic live arrangement that brought the crowd to a dancing frenzy.

It was moments like those that gave me hope for future Hot Chip shows. Until then, I’ll be listening to their excellent sophomore album and hoping they find some new tricks up their sleeves.

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