Monday, May 21, 2007

REVIEW: The Books (Sugar Club, Dublin)

It’s all about the video these days for The Books. The band that won a million indie hearts with their virtuoso collages of found samples and snatches of bizarre, uncanny, and, occasionally, quite possibly meaningless dialogue, blended with delicate, folky, treated guitar and electric cello, have been working out how to take their decidedly studio-bound show on the road.

The answer has come partially through the prominence given to video at their concert, and partially by working out organic versions of the studio sound that relied profoundly – but always shrewdly – on the cut and paste buttons.

Nick Zammuto and Dutchman Paul de Jong, take their seats stage in front of the large video screen and tell us that they spent a lot of time working on video recently, and that they’d like to play some of them for us tonight. And so, with a press of the remote control, which Zammuto wields throughout the night like an extra instrument, the screen lights up, the lads pick up their instruments and start to play.

The music is not quiet a live soundtrack for the pictures – a la Cinematic Orchestra. But the pictures aren’t simply there to give your eyes something to do while you listen either. The connection between music and pictures is, instead, at a far more interesting level, with images sometimes illustrating musical points, or offering a visual rhythm section to the boys’ multi-layer melodies; sometimes clearing up ambiguities, sometimes causing them. It’s complicated, but there is not doubt The Books are onto something here.

Working this way adds extra layers of meanings to the tunes, but also great waves of humour and – via a delightful mash-up of Nick and Paul’s childhood home movies – the kind of feeling of intimacy that seldom comes across in interviews. Sometimes, a zippy animation of a song’s lyrics suddenly presents a whole new type of fun, as in Smells Like Content; at others, the chopped up clips of looping, salacious athletes that accompany If Not Now, Whenever seem intended to alter the song’s DNA to produce a new beast entirely.

The mood established by all this is extraordinary, bringing together music that is poised, lyrical, with humour that hops from broad slapstick, to wry observations about philosophy, religion and race. Rapt silence interspersed with explosive laughter and applause is the Sugar Club’s general response -- which makes a lot of sense, given that almost sounds like a description of an average tune by The Books.


As if to underline their inventive approach to gigging, the band encourages us all not to buy their CDs on the way out, but instead to get a copy of their DVD featuring the images and the music. On the night, it struck me as a nice, business-minded development from the boys. But then I read this on their web site:

A Note About Our Finances:

We feel the need to dispel any notions that we are financially sitting pretty because of the acclaim our music has enjoyed. It's true, we've released a couple of records and we're grateful to all of the writers who have taken the time to write about them, but unfortunately our record sales do not reflect this. Our work, although deeply satisfying to us, has left us both on the brink of financial collapse since we began, so we are asking you: Please, do not steal our music thinking that we can afford it. We barely get by, and aren't able to afford basic things like health insurance, let alone raising a family, etc. We love what we do, and we love that people listen, but if you would like to see our work continue, please support us, and all of the artists you enjoy, as directly as possible. The sad fact is, we can make a much better living selling t-shirts than we can selling music, so please help us keep this going.

I felt rather happy (OK, relieved) that I had purchased the DVD, at e15. You can do the same (and more) at


Blogger Sarah said...

Read interview w/ Books' Nick Zammuto:

9:34 PM  
Blogger luke clancy said...

nice interview! here's a clickable link to it: Nick Book Interview at Impose

10:13 AM  

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