Big Data was making music before the Cambridge Analytica scandal, before the release of Amazon’s Alexa, and before self-driving cars could pass state driving exams. But now, on the cusp of new studio album 3.0 (out in February), their name resonates more than ever, and their live show doesn’t feel so futuristic anymore. They stopped by Phoenix’s Valley Bar on Sunday night to give us a mix of old favorites and yet-to-be-released material.
The sparsely populated venue gave no indication that it was about to play host to multiple artists endorsed by Alt Nation, but Australian rockers Castlecomer and alt rock duo FITNESS were also on the bill.
FITNESS kicked off the night with almost equal parts music and commentary. “We’ve made our lives more difficult by making ourselves impossible to find,” joked vocalist Kenny Carkeet. For the record, searching “fitnesswastaken” online or on social media will do the trick.
A relatively new project out of Los Angeles, FITNESS comprises Carkeet, formerly of AWOLNATION, and Max Collins, formerly of Eve6. The two met at a festival in Syracuse, and the rest is history. “Get Dead,” “Supafeeler,” and this summer’s Karate soon followed once they realized they complemented each other’s musical strengths.
FITNESS is dedicated to making music that makes them happy, so don’t expect them to cater to fans’ wishes, but this also makes them refreshing—even though their live performances aren’t perfect.
Castlecomer is in the U.S. fresh off the release of their debut eponymous album, and they already sound just polished enough to pass for a veteran band. Opening with “I Could Be Like You,” the band’s guitar-driven melodies translated well to the intimate venue, and frontman Bede Kennedy has the easygoing nature on stage that makes the band approachable and likeable before they even play their first notes..
Kennedy thanked everyone for showing up early, as well as giving Alt Nation a shoutout for playing their music. And toward the end of their set, he came into the crowd and led the tried and true crouch-and-jump to hype everyone up for their closer, the groovy “Make Love Make Music” that was reminiscent of Cut Copy.
By the time Big Data arrived on stage, the venue had filled up with a laid back crowd spread out across the floor, those who had never been to a Big Data show curious to see how Alan Wilkis could pull off a live performance when his albums are full of collaborations. To make it happen, he has brought another vocalist on tour with him, as well as a drummer and a guitarist (who might not have actually been playing. Still unconfirmed.)
We were treated to 2.0 hits “The Business of Emotion” and “Snowed In,” and most skepticism went out the window. While the live band commanded the stage, the backdrop was a never-ending video of futuristic clips showing robotics, glowing geometric shapes, and the Big Data logo spinning hypnotically, just to name a few.
Big Data transitioned to new material early in the set with “Evolution Once Again,” the first of the new singles from 3.0. Alan Wilkis more or less summed up Big Data as a project with his description of the song to Billboard: “The character singing the song is the forlorn computer scientist who feels abandoned by the AI he has created, which has now left him (and all of humanity) far behind.”
AI was a recurring theme, with a smart device often appearing on the screen and a female voice projecting over the speakers. Soon, “she” shared her name was Lizzie and asked the crowd to repeat after her. The effect was eerie as a blend of human voices responded to her computerized one, but that’s the whole point. Big Data makes paranoid alternative electropop.
Despite singing about the business of emotion, there was very little emotion shown from any of the band members throughout the set—they really had the robotic performer thing down—until the very end after breakout single “Dangerous” when they all broke into smiles and thanked us for coming out to see them. “This wouldn’t be possible without you all,” Wilkis said. “So to thank you, let’s do something special.”
The beats of “Dangerous (Oliver Remix)” bumped over the speakers, and, laughing, both vocalists initiated a synchronized dance to the popular remix. Almost as if they were programmed to do so.
Story and photos by Taylor Gilliam