Long before James Murphy’s short but eventful reign as the czar of dance-punk with LCD Soundsystem, there was a band that words simply can’t define.
Literally, there’s no universally agreed-upon pronunciation for the California dance machine !!!. chk chk chk is commonly accepted, as is bop bop bop and pow pow pow or any other visceral, onomatopoeic grunt that flows from the qualia of the self repeated three times. Live at Motorco Music Hall in Durham last Wednesday, !!!’s tightly spun mélange of gutter funk and hypnotic disco swagger created countless opportunities to spawn appropriate phonemes.
It’s basically a cliché at this point, but as emphatic a dance music force as !!! is on their four full-length records, there’s an entire element to the band that is insistent of their live experience. Front man Nic Offer will never be confused for having anything more than a serviceable set of pipes, but he’s practicably irreplaceable within the !!! dynamic. He’s a complete spaz on stage, maniacally flailing about like a frat boy on acid at an ‘80s theme party, and it compels his audience into knocking down their own personal barriers. His uncanny resemblance to a booty-shorts-wearing Nick Swardson circa “Reno 911!” fits flawlessly with the omnisexual disco-dog persona he assumes. When he dives into the audience, sexual discretion is obliterated in favor of free-for-all dance orgies.
Not that anyone seemed to mind. To fully experience a !!! show, one already has to practice a certain level of disregard for personal space, but at this particular show there was also seemingly a need to ignore almost any degree of familiarity with their music. Their last album came in 2010 and currently on the march to the studio to record another, they weren’t shy at all about testing new music. Six of the 11 songs they played were of the unrecorded and tentatively titled variety, and the finale was an electro-boogie interpretation of Petey Pablo’s state anthem “North Carolina.”
The new music suggests a descent deeper into abstract groove than any album since 2004’s masterstroke Louden Up Now. “Creamy” and “One Boy” recalled the intersection between Slave’s self-titled and Nile Rodgers’ Adventures In the Land of the Good Groove, with guitarist Mario Andreoni shifting between Hazelian hard funk and thin, snaky melodies with !!!’s pinpoint symmetry amidst the known commodities like “Jamie, My Intentions are Bass” and “Must Be the Moon.”
Ostensibly, if the intentions were to create beat for beat’s sake and foster the typical unhinged !!! dance-a-thon, then mission accomplished. When Offer wasn’t in the crowd, he was posted on the stage monitors face-humping whoever consented, or with feet planted and engaged in any of his three go-to moves, all of which consist of swinging arms and gyrating hips and executed with taut, single-minded precision set to a beat big enough to knock you over. There may be an infinite number of says to pronounce it, but when you see them live, the name starts to make a little more sense.