TVD Live: VNV Nation at the 9:30 Club, 12/6

There is something about conformity in music that gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I think this is because my mind likes to maintain the ideal that music comes from a completely unique place of right brain-derived creativity. Whether you are a musician or a fan, authenticity is often the name of the game.

We like to hear about band members meeting each other as kids in math class or at the local diner (Behind The Music, anyone?), jamming together in garages or small dive bars (The Beatles, Guns N Roses, Nirvana). We don’t like when record labels hold auditions and manufacture groups for prepubescent personality stereotypes (New Kids On The Block, O-Town, Milli Vanilli).

We appreciate a quality singing voice (Aretha Franklin) and disparage those that lip synch (Britney Spears, any girl/boy band, once again, Milli Vanilli).

And a beat up, spit on, carved into, decades old and lovingly played guitar will always be more cherished than some shiny new one hanging in the window of a Guitar Center. (No matter how many “cool” flames are painted on the front of it.)

Thus, it is hard for me to understand the bright, shiny elements and the frantic goth fandom that attaches itself to rave/EBM (electronic body music) and the acts that perform it like the British/Irish group VNV Nation. Right from the start, with the word “nation” in the group’s name, it’s clear that this music is intended for audiences, not individuals. On Tuesday at the 9:30 Club, aside from the lead singer, all band members wore the exact same short-sleeved black collared shirt with a VNV logo on it, making the keyboardists and drummer look more like employees at a Radio Shack than members of a band.

Five large pixelated screens flanked the back of the stage with strobe lights and rotating lamps that frequently changed colors, collaborating with the intense beats and dizzying keyboards of the music.

But having been a band since 1995, their stage presence is something VNV Nation has clearly honed, and lead singer Ronan Harris was very comfortable accepting free shots from audience members and joking with the crowd, making comments like,”Nice hair-do, ma’am, that must have taken all day!”, “Don’t you people on the balcony think I’m not watching you! You better dance!” and “Everyone start moving… except you right there in the yellow sweatshirt. You just stand completely still, okay?”

The camaraderie delighted the audience, and they especially enjoyed it when the group played well-known songs like “Illusion” and amped up the energy with tracks from their 2011 album Automatic including “Resolution” and set closer, “Control.” The lyrics to”Control” suggest wanting to be dominating in more of an individual sense, but all that could be derived from this performance was a sweaty, strobe-y sermon from Harris with the audience willfully bopping along.

But by the end of the set, that wasn’t such a bad thing. I was bopping along too. I may not often enjoy music that treats the audience like a faceless army, but sometimes you just need to hear beats so throbbing they numb your thoughts and shake your ass.

Photos: Dave Barnhouser, 13th Hour Photography

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