Live Music + Gig Reviews

AU @ Cafe OTO, London

16 September 2009

In deepest Dalston, East London is a venue called Cafe OTO that opened last year. Tonight it played host to AU (pronounced “ay-you”), an experimental pop collective from Portland, Oregon, who could be favourably compared to the likes of Animal Collective. AU is primarily the work of multi-instrumentalist Luke Wyland, with a little help from his friends. On this occasion he’s touring with a chap called Dana Valatka on drums (and at various points, a glockenspiel and a multitude of glass bells). Together, they make for a fantastic live musical partnership.

And tonight they did not disappoint. Wyland and Valatka threw themselves into the gig, appearing to really enjoy the experience of playing live. It was a little unfortunate that the crowd were seated around tables in front of them – the atmosphere would have been better if the management had cleared the area and got people to stand up and jump around a bit. Despite encouragement from the compere, only a few people obliged.

The restrained audience contrasted with AU’s slightly unhinged, physically demanding performance – they were having to towel themselves down after most songs – and there was a fair amount of variety. Their opener was a rather gentle affair, for one thing. RR vs D, arguably one of the greatest tracks from their most recent album Verbs, was especially good live. On the album it features an exuberant orchestra, which is a bit difficult to replicate with two people. Wyland chose to replace it with a melodica, which is simple but effective.

For their encore of Are Animals, they laid down some ground-rules. Specifically, that they would only play if everyone stood up and crowded around them. This worked really well, particularly during the bit where he directed everyone to scream at the top of their voices, which we duly did. Very cathartic, that.

One member of the audience also decided to beat the hell out of a cymbal which Valatka had knocked off his kit through very forceful drumming, earlier in the set. Afterwards it was hard not to crack a smile and head off to check when they’re next in town.

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More on AU
AU – Both Lights
AU @ Cafe OTO, London