Considering how strong a groove and dreamy an atmosphere one encounters in almost every top CARLO LIO track, it was disappointing to this writer how non-dramatic his 105-minute set at Bijou Nightclub played out this past Friday night.
Taken in individual pieces, Lio's work dominates. No house music producer creates tracks more classic as funk, blues, or psychedelics. The rhythms of his best stuff have all the funk of a Gap Band bomb-drop and the murk of a Chicago blues. And Lio's atmospherics exhale a dry ice smoke show as delirious as any in the world of arena rock. One plays his top download, "Ce una" and savors every touch, every bar. Same for "Do It," "Stuck In a Dream," "For the Love of," and "La Cage Invisible" (emblematic title, that). Always a smooth, pumping, sultry and candy-coated ride. Yet put them altogether, as Lio did in his Bijou set, and the whole simply did not live up to the sum of its parts.
Partly, that's because of the sameness of Lio's best tracks. It's hard to sequence sameness without achieving boredom. Good it is that he now wields a consistent sound, immediately identifiable and irresistible -- a sound much more lush than the minimalist work he featured a few years ago. Yet consistency impeded Lio's Bijou set. In a 105-minute DJ performance there should be progression -- the narrative must develop a plot, and that plot should climax in some way. At Bijou, Lio's narrative simply repeated itself, like a book in which every chapter is chapter one. Lio's mixes also used the groove-and-break method invented at least 15 years ago by Armand van Helden. It's an effective method of build up and blow off, but in its most basic application it wears out a welcome after the first half dozen or so. Lio's noise-abstraction beat breaks offered nothing new, no improvisation upon or interruption of the tried and true; they, too, fell somewhat flat after the first few.
He used Bijou's many-channeled sound system and his own PC program. Playing four channels enabled him to work the monologue drop-ins that his work has always employed. All of these felt delicious to the dancers. Wry ("pull that chain"), ecstatic ("I'm going downtown!") timely ("don't fuck, don’t fuck" -- this on the night that we all heard about David Petraeus' fall from grace), snarky ("tacky boots!"), every single voice tool pinged the music and tickled one's ears.
Yet it was not enough. Not only did Lio's set simply groove on and on, to no end, it also included tracks less evocative than his best, tracks from his older, less lush work, such as "Let's Get Back" and "Purple Soul" as well as a new one in his older style, "Insomnia." Several years ago, when this writer reviewed a Lio set at RISE, Lio's minimalist style worked, as a dance of strut and step-step at a time when house music was paying strong homage to its jazz and jitterbug roots. And Lio's atmospherics felt surprisingly dramatic pitted against his minimalism.
At Bijou, though, Lio's strut and step-step passages -- devoid even of voice tool-ins, when they wee most needed -- simply made one's attention wander around the room. And though every passage of thin sound soon gave way to his much richer, current work, these simply took us back to status quo ante. There was physical delight and subliminal beauty, aplenty, in Lio's set. But there was very little adventure, and thus only glimpses of transcendence.
One of Boston's most in-demand opening-set DJs, Sergio Santos, gave Lio everything of a dark beat and humming bass lines that he could ask for. Santos has no Boston equal as a DJ of dirty beat, 124 BPM music of sultry body moves and cat-purr sounds. Such was his set at Bijou as well, a set that Lio's music was poised to render even more physical, and often did.