The Books start the school year on the right note

Gorgeous tickets printed, posters in the hallways, seats filling the belly of Rangos, and a sprawling line, composed mainly of uber-hipsters, snaking through the UC signaled the first AB Coffeehouse event of the year: The Books, with special guest Lohio.

Lohio, in classic we-need-to-find-a-local-band-to-open fashion, is a Pittsburgh-based group that played well and sang well, filling the first hour of the show with music that did not send people fleeing in droves. They were pleasant and, in their own right, good. However, they were no match for the semi-spectacle that is The Books.

The Books began with a track called “Group Autogenics.” Autogenics, a technique for relaxation invented in 1932, has a participant repeat a series of sayings to, as www.guidetopsychology.com states, “add a calm, stabilizing sensation of coolness to your forehead.” The Books have taken autogenics recordings; added a beat, a bit of cello, and a bit of clavinet; and projected those slow, calm voices above the band, emanating from floating heads. Disembodied heads and hands, and glasses of what might be liquid earwax, poured onscreen, all superimposed on swirling, vibrantly colored, fractal-infused backgrounds. That is The Books.

The two bandmates, Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong, who have been creating music in this manner for over a decade, have continued to refine their approach with their newest release The Way Out. Their self-described style of collage music is created from vast catalogues — that they themselves have assembled — of obscure and often old recordings. This lends a layered, often humorous texture to the music: The relaxing mantras described above are recited on top of the sounds of Japanese airline attendants, bird whistles, and kids screaming about ripping out each other’s hair.

But since, so often, the best qualities of the music are from the carefully formulated layers of the collected recordings and their added instrumentation, what is the value of the live performance? Much of the material is pre-recorded, because it began its life as a cassette tape or a discarded record, and the music cannot stray far from its studio version and still aligns with the video experience.

So the value of the concert (having witnessed this uncommon performance) is not in The Books’ improvisations or their sheer live musical skill, but in the genius of the assembly. They have created a concert experience that is nearly unique, one where friends can sit down, in every seat and then on the floor of Rangos, to absorb this thoughtfully created audio-visual experience, to enjoy the humor, the obscurity, and the intrigue.

Patrick Gage Kelley | Contributing Editor