WASHINGTON, August 2, 2013 — There are always bands that make it relatively big or have some amount of mainstream success in the U.S. by promoting the notion that the band is having its own private joke on the public. Sometimes the audience is in on the joke, more or less.
At other times, the very idea of “understanding the joke” is a big part of the joke, but bands with this modus operandi always seem to come from outside the states. This is the kind of band CSS appears to be, at least on the surface, judging from their recent appearance here at the 9:30 Club.
The CSS joke never seems specific. But it does extend more from absorbing — intentionally or unintentionally — way too much straight pop music in one sitting and starts coming across as absurd. For the most part, CSS can agree with that notion. But at the very least, the musicians always seem to have their tongues firmly planted in their collective cheeks. While it’s never quite clear how much they’re joking around, how much fun they have as a band is never in question.
CSS hails from Sao Paulo, Brazil and embodies, in a way, that country’s sense of fun. Even their name, Cansei de Ser Sexy (which translates from Portuguese as “I got tired of being sexy”), sounds like the band is having a laugh. Of course, it’s important to note that none of this really comes at the expense of anyone in particular, feeling instead like an extension of the band’s intention to be as energetic as possible while scrupulously avoiding any hint of seriousness. The band’s headlining set at the 9:30 Club was a direct example of their approach.
CSS came up through the Brazilian club scene where most of their members were already active. This shared experienced enabled them to creatively blend indie rock with some semblance of electro-pop. Watching them live, it often feels like a blur. Everything about the band is in constant motion, and when lead singer Lovefoxxx talks between sets, she seems practically out of breath as she communicates with the audience.
CSS was at the forefront of this infinitely malleable electro-pop/indie rock genre that’s been emerging since about ten years ago. In fact, described in basic terms, CSS never feels terribly unique. The individual parts, including synthesizers, light, and whirling guitars all feel, on the surface anyway, much like music everyone has heard somewhere before. But it’s hard to imagine that another band would be able to pull off their idiosyncratic musical activities quite so convincingly or make even half as enjoyable as CSS manages to do live.
Part of this has to do with the band being from Brazil, a music culture the U.S. isn’t directly exposed to all that often. So even before the start of the show, they bring a different mindset to the audience. Again, it’s not that CSS does anything different with their musical styling, but everything they do feels absolutely infectious from start to finish. It’s straight up pop that becomes addictive after about 30 to 40 minutes.
It’s because of that infectiousness that the band’s entire show doesn’t quite seem real. Instead, it’s as if the audience is caught in a high-minded performance piece where every song is an anthem and where each anthem, in turn, is some variation of the party.
Maybe that’s the joke CSS is playing on everyone in the audience, though. Their unabashed lack of sentimentality and eagerness to simply have a good time combine to force-feed that very notion to the audience. CSS isn’t concerned that they want this. For that reason, their direct approach feels different in front of the audience because most bands find it necessary to be coy about similar notions. CSS just doesn’t have time for that. So instead, they cut right to the heart of the matter and that’s what makes their live show tick.
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