The Books’ performance on September 17th was easily their sloppiest I have personally witnessed. Not to imply that my knowledge of their performances is particularly exceptional (up until the 17th, I had seen them twice), but the Books typically demonstrate an almost superhuman control over their intricately structured music. And honestly, though it may sound like I’m contradicting myself, the performance at Columbus, Ohio’s Wexner Center 17th was no exception. Everything sounded superb, particularly the new material (more on that later), but this was the first show I’ve seen of theirs where there was even a vaguely noticeable kink in their instrumental armor. The duo comprised of Nick Zammuto and Paul De Jong. even felt the need to end the show with “Smells Like Content,” which would have been perfectly normal had they not played that very song 15 minutes earlier. Apparently, Zammuto and De Jong deemed the first performance unsatisfactory and felt the need to correct it, mostly for their own edification.
The audience, on the other hand, had no idea there was anything wrong with the first attempt at “Smells Like Content,” but such is the perfectionist nature of the Books. Generally, that attention to detail serves us Books fans well, as it no doubt explains why their three full-length albums are so brilliantly thorough and microscopically crafted. Lately though, that same obsession has meant four years without a new full-length album.
Fortunately, judging by their performance this past Thursday, the Books have been using that time well. The audience at the Wexner Center were treated to at least four previously unreleased songs likely to show up on the next Books LP (which De Jong predicted will likely show up early next year), and based on these performances, Zammuto and De Jong have spent the last four years collecting hypnotherapy videotapes and children’s discarded Talkboy cassettes.
For those of you unfamiliar with Talkboys, Zammuto helpfully reminded the audience that the Talkboy was heavily featured in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. It’s a simple cassette recorder and player, and apparently Zammuto and De Jong managed to gather enough of these tapes to create a song full of sampled, rampantly rambling children. The resulting product, “A Cold Freezin Night,” is simultaneously hilarious and a tad disturbing, as a child with a Talkboy will apparently either over excitedly babble, or talk about his/her goofy revenge fantasies (which included one boy who dreamt of ripping out a rival girl’s hair so that his classmates may laugh about her bald head). Of the new material presented, “A Cold Freezin Night” offered the most unadulterated innocent joy.
The hypnotherapy element, which the duo has suggested will play a large part on their upcoming release, provided a less manic form of enjoyment. The Books opened with “Group Therapy,” against a backdrop of amusingly tacky hypnotherapy videos imploring the viewer to imagine that their head is a glass of orange liquid. Though obviously no one ended up hypnotized, the videos combined with the appropriately sluggish music did have a mesmerizing effect on the audience. Elsewhere, on “Chain of Missing Links,” the Books created small magic out of percussion seemingly built around sharply drawn breaths. Most impressively, the Books performed an unnamed achingly melancholy song while remarkable video footage predating 1930 played behind them.
The older material sounded predictably solid. Even with anticipation for the new material at an ever growing high, “Be Good To Them Always,” and “Take Time” are always welcome. What’s more, I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that the Books will someday release a studio version of “Classy Penguin”, a live staple written by Zammuto’s brother known to Books’ fans as Mikey Bass. But the performance at the Wexner Center this past Thursday mostly served to satiate the increasingly restless mob of Books’ fans eagerly anticipating the duo’s next full length. Allow me to offer them a little assurance: it looks like it may have been worth the wait.