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The Enigmatic Liars
With a band that's always changing, what the band presents is anyone's guess.

Photo courtesy of Liars Facebook page.
By Joe Guszkowski

Liars is an enigma. In the band’s down time, it stays largely out of the public eye, surfacing only when it’s ready to air out the new sound it’s been working on. Impenetrable right down to song titles and album art, the trio has managed to cover a big swath of stylistic territory over six albums without repeating itself – leading some to simply file them under “experimental” – yet you’d never mistake a Liars song for a different band. So, although I had brushed up on most of their material – a strange amalgamation of punk, metal, dance and ambient electronics – in preparation for their performance Wednesday night at Mad Planet, I still had no idea what to expect from their live set.

Creating an idea of what a band is like in your imagination is part of what’s fun about listening to music – and Liars is precisely the kind of band whose unpredictability fuels that type of daydreaming. So it was a little disappointing to find that, outside of a few tics, Liars live is about what one might expect from a working indie band touring behind its newest album. Their set was dominated by songs from 2012’s WIXIW (pronounced “Wish You”) which, while very good, doesn’t pack as many hits as previous albums Sisterworld and Liars, nor does it translate as well onstage. In the band’s defense, it’s an album that favors atmosphere and texture over traditional songwriting, and is certainly more impressive through headphones than it was through the muddy sound-system at Mad Planet Wednesday night.

After opening with the first two tracks from the album – spacey dirges for which charismatic front-man Angus Andrew occupied himself mainly with twisting knobs – the band pounded into “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack,” the second track from 2006’s beloved Drum’s Not Dead. The moment he slung his electric guitar over his shoulders, the audience knew they were in for an old standby. “Heart Attack” got the crowd buzzing, and a few songs later, the paranoid Sisterworld favorite “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” sent it into a frenzy.

Clad in blazers, shirts and ties, the band worked industriously through its hour-long set. Andrew, face hidden behind a curtain of stringy locks, made up for the energy his band-mates seemed to lack, though there was little for him to do during the slower, quieter numbers. While the set proceeded in an almost business-like manner onstage, the audience, which packed Mad Planet’s main room to its edges, was doing its best to engage. Liars has a definite danceable streak, evident in songs like WIXIW’s “Brats” and encore/closer “Plaster Casts Of Everything” from Liars, both of which stirred up the front rows.

While Wednesday’s audience was clearly ready for experimental punk Liars circa 2010, what they got was the experimental electronic Liars of 2012. Therein lies the rub, I suppose, of rooting for a band that is always changing. While their occupancy of Mad Planet Wednesday may not have been the most memorable, who knows where they’ll be the next time they pass through? With Liars, it’s anyone’s guess, but maybe the mystery of it is more interesting than the truth. 

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