Last Night: Caribou at the Culture Room

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Culture Room, Ft. Lauderdale

April 5, 2008

Better Than: Having The Amboy Dukes drop by to help you with your homework.

First things first. I (and you, if you were lucky enough to be there) have gotta thank Ahmed Gallab of Sinkane, who took over the traps for Caribou’s accident-prone drummer, Brad Weber, after he broke his wrist in Washington. (This was Weber’s second wrist-break in as many months.) Not only that, but Gallab got it together in just two days' time, allowing Caribou to re-resume their world tour, thus giving South Florida a chance to catch one of the most whispered-about bands in the land.

My beef? Had I or anyone else realized just how brilliantly Caribou trips the night, we wouldn’t have been whispering about the band – we would’ve been shouting it from the rooftops.

As you know, Caribou is Dan Snaith, who once was a one-man band named Manitoba. But now he’s not. Yes, he produces, performs and writes everything Caribou waxes. No, he couldn’t do it alone. Not live, anyway.

Guitarist Ryan Smith straps up and strings into the cosmos. Bassist Andy Lloyd pulses deep to the bottom of the sea. And the aforementioned Gallab – who arranges his set up front and just off-center – bangs the drums as if his skin and his bones and his soul depended on it.

Which, of course, it does; otherwise he wouldn’t be there. And otherwise neither would we.

But that’s not to say Snaith didn’t play a band’s worth of instruments all by himself. When he wasn’t strumming a guitar, he was smacking a snare and a floor tom. When he wasn’t smacking drums he was needling keys, and when he wasn’t needling keys he was mouthing a melodica or a harmonium or whatever the hell those band-class classic plastics are called. At one point I think he even tinkled a xylophone. And – except for the melodica, natch – he generally sang along with whichever instrument he was playing. Oh, and when Snaith does have half a second to spare, he tunes his guitar, mid-song, while the band plays on.

But forget the musicianship, ‘cause catching Caribou is more like having a multisensory experience in ultra-sound and inner vision. Backdropped by a Spyrograph, they chime like a Lite-Brite. Or was that vice versa? Hard to say. After awhile the whirl blurred into a torrent of trippery. “Melody Day,” that pitch-perfect twirl of a wind-up, melted my imagination, not to mention my heart. “After Hours” spun both into the shape of things to come undone. “Sandy” set me loose on a star-stroked swing with a girl far, far away. And “Every Time She Turns Round It’s Her Birthday” summed up the whole with a candle and a cake and a wish.

For all the egghead shamanism, like the wild reindeer from which he nicks its name, Caribou is primal. And like the many equations Snaith must’ve had to identify in order to get his PhD in Mathematics, they also happen to be constant – and true.

In other words, the music of Caribou can be added and subtracted and multiplied and divided and still equal the sum of its alchemically elemental parts. It can also blow your fucking mind, as well as your soul. I left in a swirl of wind-swept heartbreak and hope-stoked swoon, and if that’s not the mission of smart pop music, I don’t know what is. -- John Hood

Personal Bias: If I were the supplicant sort, this would always bring me to my knees.

Random Detail: My notebook says Caribou come off like Belle and Sebastian taking an Arcade Death Cab, but they really are more like a gadget-friendly version of Norway’s Motorpsycho.

By the Way: An digital-only EP called She’s the One (with a killer Hot Chip remix) is now out on Merge.

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