Published Dec 08, 2015Six years is an eternity in music when you consider that the Doors released six original, platinum-selling studio albums between 1967 and 1971, but that's how long it took Los Angeles noise mongers HEALTH to follow up Get Color, their breakout sophomore album from 2009.
Recorded under the guidance of dark ambient producer the Haxan Cloak and Kanye West engineer Andrew Dawson, 2015's Death Magic took their sound in a direction far more akin to Placebo jamming with Nine Inch Nails than the kind of freewheeling Crystal Castles remixing My Bloody Valentine vibe they created earlier. They replaced much of Benjamin Jared Miller's percussion with sterile programming and placed regrettably coherent focus on Jake Duzsik's lovelorn lyrics, which Famiglietti has admitted in interviews were primarily utilitarian rather than emotionally expository. They lost much of their DIY impertinence in the process of fine-tuning their youthful experimentation into a more contemporary if mature electronic pop sound, which resulted in largely mixed reviews for the record. Seeing them perform, though, one might guess those tracks were merely demos for their live show.
Red lights and ambient sound cut through the chilled yet muggy Vancouver night in anticipation of HEALTH's first appearance in the city since early 2010. As the trio, none the worse for the absence of keyboardist Jupiter Keyes, found their spots onstage, Miller immediately went full force into beast mode on the skins, with Duzsik and bassist/effects tweaker John Famiglietti joining in beating on his kit and a floor tom positioned center stage. Unlike the album after which this tour was named, percussion would clearly be the beating heart of this set. Miller crushed so hard for the duration that it seemed remarkable his kit didn't become a smoldering pile of melted plastic, wood chips, metal shards and tattered strips of Mylar by the end, but Duzsik and Famiglietti did their part to bring up the energy.
With the trio cranking it out incessantly for their roughly 45-minute set, nary a pause taken for tuning or banter, Famiglietti swirled his swath of long, dark hair like his life depended on it whenever he wasn't tweaking a slab of effects or laying down gnarly bass lines. Duzsik crooned on the mic, screamed into their signature Zoothorn (a homemade guitar pedal/microphone that elicits unearthly melodic distortions), and swaggered about in the controlled chaos of his wild, creative guitar tones. His lyrics made visceral connections with the girls kneeling or sent leaning over the front of the stage by the surging mosh behind them, helping the singer belt out the refrain to "Stonefist" as if it was written about them.
The crowd was onside from the start, but it reached a crescendo with the seething ballad-ish "New Coke" and its alternately pounding and skittering drums, causing an explosion of moshing that the cybergoths kept going for the Yeasayer-goes-metal '80s pop deconstruction of "L.A. Looks" and sent a woman crowd-surfing inches from the low Biltmore ceiling for "Dark Enough."
HEALTH dropped a brutal noise barrage, demonstrating their ability to stop on a dime before diving headlong into another manic groove multiple times, a performance marked by masterful textural transitions with consistently massive energy. Their encore was a one-minute burst of hardcore punk, after which Famiglietti walked right offstage to the merch booth, which immediately manifested a deservedly big crowd. These guys were good live when I saw them as a quartet at Bumbershoot back in 2010, and they are a lot better now.