Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Topping the list of musicians you might not want to meet in a dark alley: Hot Chip.

In 2006, the London-based electro-pop outfit issued “The Warning,” where, between juicy dance cuts (the fine “Over and Over”) and twinkly lullabies (“Look After Me”), they sneaked details of an imminent smackdown into the title track: “Hot Chip will break your legs, snap off your head.”

The words may not have raised red flags for all listeners, since they’re wrapped in cheery chiming tones and recited in Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard’s mesmerizingly gentle vocal style — but the sentiment is something of an ongoing theme for the British quintet.

“From Drummer to Driver” (a tune off their 2004 debut, “Coming On Strong”) threatens listeners with an M-16; their blog recounts their Greco-Roman-themed parties and ponders whether their 10,000 MySpace friends could conquer a small nation; their forthcoming album is (purportedly) “mostly about WWF wrestling.”

So, what’s with all the confrontational posturing?

“It must be some kind of unconscious thing we have,” Mr. Goddard says. “I guess we have an obsession with violence because we’re so meek and mild. There’s a sort of escapism there, where we wish we could be more aggressive.”

OK, so maybe the Hot Chip boys aren’t really on the warpath. Maybe they’re just five slightly goofy blokes who like to trying on personas — and playing around in general.

Musically, they’ve mimicked Prince, dreamed about scoring a “shiny SUV” and bragged about the “rims” on their Peugeot. Their humor continues outside the recording studio as well. On the phone, for example, Mr. Goddard gives a convincing argument about why the band needs to use radio-controlled Segways in its shows (our hilarious little secret).

One gets the sense that the “Boy From School” they sing so hauntingly about is someone they’ve learned to embrace — an inner child, if you will.

Recently, the “children” have been playing full-band and DJ gigs around the globe, mixing a new club compilation for the DJ Kicks series (out in May), and hunkering down to work on their third full-length.

“Things are pretty good,” the low-key Mr. Goddard reports.

Hot Chip roars into D.C.’s 9:30 Club ( on Saturday; doors open at 6 p.m.

—Jenny Mayo

Songs of the sea

First it was the Vikings, then the English, French, Germans, Irish, Scots and Portuguese. For more than 500 years, travelers from Europe have passed through the island of Newfoundland, the easternmost point in North America.

“When all these cultures came here and they decided to stay here, they brought their music from all these unique cultural backgrounds,” says Newfoundlander Sean McCann. “A mini melting pot is kind of what happened here. Because we’re an island, it was allowed to flourish and become really unique.”

Mr. McCann should know; he and Alan Doyle and Bob Hallett make up the band Great Big Sea (performing at the Warner Theatre tomorrow night). Since 1993, Great Big Sea has been performing this special blend of sea shanties, Celtic pub songs, musical tales and folk ballads as well as contributing their own songs to this 500-year-old musical legacy.

The band, sometimes described as “aggressive folk,” offers high-energy singing and harmonies along with fresh arrangements and dynamic musicianship that gets audiences standing, dancing and singing along through most of its sets.

The Great Big Sea playlist includes both the traditional songs the band members learned growing up and originals. Newfoundland’s musical tradition has passed through many hands, usually in kitchens and living rooms.

“We learn songs usually from word of mouth, like we sat next to some older guy or someone who knows a song, and we just think it’s valid music,” says Mr. McCann. “Because the songs have lasted so long it usually tells us they’re really good. The problem we have as writers is trying to live up to the challenge of writing a song that’s good enough to stand up next to a song that’s lived for 500 years without the benefit of being recorded or played on the radio.”

Based on their many Canadian music awards and platinum-selling albums (Canadian platinum, or 100,000 units), one can say they’ve had some success. Another measure of success is that it is often difficult to tell Great Big Sea originals from the Newfoundland traditionals. They all sound current while still steeped in history.

“For us folk music has to be organic. It’s hard to pass strict rules on to younger people,” concludes Mr. McCann. “Insuring the long-term life of songs is to reinterpret them and to make them relevant to your age group. Hopefully, people younger than you will like them and reinterpret them again. It’s a dynamic, organic process.”

It’s a process that Great Big Sea should be a part of for many years to come.

The Sea crests at Warner Theatre ( tomorrow night at 8 p.m.

—Kris Garnjost

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