Fans who've been wondering what the Books have been up to in the four years that have elapsed since their last record may have gotten their questions answered last night. "We've been really into hypnotherapy lately," cellist Paul de Jong announced, before he and guitarist Nick Zammuto launched into a brand new song, "Group Therapy."
The tune, purportedly about a session of multiple therapists and one patient, featured the duo's deep, rich and languorous cello and bass guitar, as the video screen behind them depicted disembodied heads against fields of grass and starry galaxies chanting such mantras as, "I am calm, I am calm" and "You are not your father, you are not your mother." It looks like those rumors of a forthcoming New Age-themed Books record might be true.For a fusion of audio and visual experience, there are laser shows, there's Broadway, and then, most epically, there's the Books - a live show that is equal parts symphonic instrumentals and curious speech and video clips. On "Be Good to Them Always," off 2005's Lost and Safe, de Jong rippled his bow across his cello, creating descending depths of sound, as Zammuto slowly chanted in unison with the speech clip, "I can hear a collective rumbling in America." On the screen above, clips of cafeteria desserts and a rhinoplasty procedure alternated back and forth, likely a charged statement on the mess that is our country's culture.
The spotlight last night, though, belonged to the duo's breathtaking new material - one track was accompanied by a pair of squeaky duck lures ("We couldn't afford to hire a horn section," quipped de Jong), while the movingly intimate "The Classy Penguin" was a melee of Zammuto's finger-picking on his acoustic guitar as young blonde boys ran across beaches and snow drifts on the screen - the band's own personal home videos.
But the most notable new song had to be "Freezin' Night" - as a synthesizer skitters and the bass grooves along, clips of exuberant little boys shout, "I wanna blow your brains out!," "Kill 'em!," and "I'm gonna rip your hair out! Your (sic) gonna be bald!" On screen, teenage girls shot rifles and boys in karate uniforms kicked at each other. Disturbingly staggering, the track is one of the best indictments on violence in America out there.
The Books closed their show with a gorgeous cover of Nick Drake's "Cello Song," stunningly reconfigured into a fitting showcase for de Jong's instrument and Zammuto's quiet, unassuming vocals, followed by "An Owl With Knees" - where both musicians really hit their stride. As naturescapes of dusky clouds, expanses of treetops and herds of wild animals played on the video screen, the cello and acoustic guitar thundered and swept through the song, seemingly racing to its finale.
The Books have an undeniably unique formula worked out - De Jong's and Zammuto's instruments don't so much transcend the atmospheric noise samples as meld with them, becoming the perfect synthesis of art and reality.