According to my friend Jules, a longtime Ladytron listener, the band’s latest effort, Witching Hour, is its best to date. The album puts the group in an enviable position: On their current tour, they can spotlight not only their most recent material but also their strongest.
Their set at the Vic last Friday began (appropriately enough) with “High Rise,” the haunting opening track on Witching Hour. “We are on the same high/ You and I,” Ladytron vocalist Helena Marnie crooned confidently to a crowd full of college students and young professionals. For the most part, they seemed to agree with her. Sharing center stage was vocalist and keyboardist Mira Aroya, who with her capable voice gave Marnie the occasional break from the microphone.
Although the band is co-ed, the male members of the group (keyboardists Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu) were relegated both physically and sonically to the background. It was for the best, as Ladytron’s edgy, vaguely sensual lyrics usually stem from a female perspective. Lyrics such as “They only want you when you’re 17/ When you’re 21/ You’re no fun”—from “Seventeen,” their big-gest pre-Witching Hour hit—read as empowerment anthems at the brightest and chronicles of sexual abuse at the bleakest.
But apart from “Cracked LCD,” another gem from their catalogue, and “He Took Her to a Movie,” their first single, the evening was an exercise in forward thinking. The emphasis on Witching Hour material was wise, with superlative tracks like “International Dateline” and “The Last One Standing” buoying weaker songs like “Sugar.” It also proved how far the band has come. In an era where electroclash bands generate headlines but not particularly memorable music, Ladytron shows they have the musical chops to stay ahead of the movement they helped to create.
Of course, they didn’t do it alone. The smartest bands know how to use opening acts to benefit their own sets. This doesn’t mean touring with musically inferior bands; it means finding the perfect complement to your sound. The ideal openers foreshadow the headlining act while avoiding an easy comparison to them.
CSS, a dance-punk act from Brazil, accomplished all of these goals and more. They took the stage chanting the three letters of their name—“C-S-S! C-S-S!”—like cheerleaders on Ecstasy. Surprisingly, this came across as playful exuberance rather than false bravado. Lead singer Ladyfoxxx delivered songs about alcohol and Aaliyah with such aplomb that I was almost disappointed when Ladytron finally took the stage.
In fact, some audience members had trouble keeping up with CSS’s excess of energy. “What’s your name?” Ladyfoxxx asked, thrusting the mike into a bewildered audience member’s face during their last song, “Alcohol.” He muttered something inaudible. “What’s your favorite drink?” she demanded. He muttered something unintelligible, prompting her to ask the question again. Huh. Maybe it was his first show.
But Ladytron were not upstaged by their awesome opening act. The band easily passes the litmus test of any touring act: They sound nearly as good live as they do on a recording. Since their music is so atmospheric, it translates beautifully to a live show. The black-clad band members, rows of multicolored lights evoking tabs of acid, and slightly intoxicated audience members served to enhance the dark, moody set. And while the faithful inched as close as possible to the stage, the best spot in the venue was the first step up from the floor. Enterprising audience members used the Vic’s wide staircase to peer over the heads of the crowd.
Ladytron is often mischaracterized as gloomy, but a closer examination of the lyrics of “Destroy Everything You Touch”—their triumphant closing number—reveals otherwise. While the title is hardly optimistic, the words suggest a rugged determination: “Anything that may/ Delay you/ Might just/ Save you.”
Could Ladytron actually aim to…inspire? Don’t put it past them. After a superb third album and now, the perfect accompanying tour, they have a good shot at achieving whatever else they set in their twisted sights.