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Here it Goes Again:’ OK Go returns to Notre Dame

Carrie Powell | Monday, October 11, 2010

Marching bands. Pop punk. Laser guitars. Rube Goldberg machines. Rescue dogs. Net neutrality. Dance funk. Try to limit the creativity of OK Go or slow them down, and, well, you’ll probably fail.


In a jam-packed weekend, OK Go brought its off-the-wall knack for art and music-making back to Notre Dame. The band recently kicked off its fall/winter tour to continue backing their recent album, “Of the Blue Colour of the Sky.” Feeling as ambitious as ever, OK Go added a few appearances at Notre Dame for good measure.


Driving from a gig in Minnesota, OK Go arrived on campus Saturday afternoon in time to join the Band of the Fighting Irish at Concert on the Steps, where they held their first live, public performance of the marching band version of “This Too Shall Pass.” The performance (without any prior practice together) was met with cheers from Irish and Panther fans alike.


The Band of the Fighting Irish rehearsed its halftime performance for two weeks, but there were no practices with OK Go. Halftime seemed more like a spontaneous happening than a regimented performance. But when the time came, the sound system worked, the ghillie suits were adequately quirky and the cards were readable. Careful planning and practice on the part of OK Go, its crew, the directors, staff and members of the Band of the Fighting Irish helped everything come together. After halftime, high fives were slapped, pictures were taken and profuse shouts of “Thanks!” and “You were great!” were exchanged. OK Go stayed on the sideline with the band to cheer on the Irish, and bassist Tim Nordwind even went up for student pushups. But the night’s show at Legends was calling, and OK Go was off for another performance.


OK Go’s show at Legends lived up to the fast-pace and fun of Saturday. Students packed Legends for a 19-song set that lasted over an hour and a half. Drawing mostly from its second studio release, the power pop driven “Oh No” and the funkier “Of the Blue Colour of the Sky,” OK Go gave a show that was unabashedly fun and showed itspenchant to let their creativity take them to wherever it demands.


The fun started immediately as the members of OK Go took the stage in colored suits — replicating the visual aesthetic from their videos for “This Too Shall Pass (Rube Goldberg Machine)” and “End Love.” Legends soon took part in the fun as the band sprayed the club with colored confetti and opened the show with the pounding, geek rock party tune “Do What You Want.” Other high-energy selections included “Get Over It” and the infamous “Here It Goes Again.” Lead singer Damian Kulash seemed to be radiating excitement as he smiled through every song, precariously floated above the stage as he balanced on a monitor and showed his range of vocals all the way up to Prince-inspired screaming. Even when performing the light-hearted “What to Do” on hand bells (complete with white gloves) the band managed to be entertaining. Especially when the complicated choreography of an eight-hand bell part gave way to Nordwind wielding a lone, large, bass bell with a playful “I didn’t do it” look. The band capped the song with a cheeky, angelic group bow, of course.


The foursome also let their geek show as they brought out a series of techie toys. For their encore the group showed off LED-infused jackets and spelled out “OK Go” on their backs before continuing with the music. When the band did continue, it did so with customized Gibson guitars that lit up and shot laser beams out of the headstocks.


OK Go also included plenty of audience participation. After performing its cuttingly bluesy “A Million Ways,” Kulash noticed two students performing the video’s choreography in the crowd and invited them onstage to perform the dance as the band did a second take on the tune. Later in the show the band even pulled a student onstage to play guitar on “Here It Goes Again.”


While OK Go created many high points in its performance and showed a great range of styles, the overall concert experience was not entirely cohesive. The high points of the show came thanks to the geek rock songs of “OK Go,” the band’s first album, and “Oh No.” Drummer Dan Konopka was at his best on these songs with his dry and crisp style. Songs from “The Blue Colour” are more musically complex, varied, introspective and difficult to replicate live. OK Go has come a long way since “Oh No” (the band toured for three years before recording “Of the Blue Colour”), and its total discography does not mesh well. It was painful to move between the acoustic crooning of a broken heart on “Last Leaf” and the manic energy of the one-night stand in “Here It Goes Again” — before starting “Last Leaf,” Kulash had to half-jokingly direct the crowd, “Shut up, this is a sad song.” The “do-it-yourself,” punk, geek rock guitar of their earlier work just did not gel with the inflections of funk, blues and synthpop of the new album.


Whether the range of OK Go’s performance left concertgoers a little confused or thoroughly impressed, the band certainly lived up to the hype of its entertainment, even without the aid of videos. In fact, the variety of OK Go’s repertoire points to their dedication to a variety of endeavors, whether they are musical, visual or political.


Many people know OK Go as the “guys from the treadmill video,” but they are much more than simply entertaining videos. In fact, OK Go takes creating art pretty seriously. Their videos take anywhere from a few days to six months to plan and film, and there are some high art concepts behind their music and visuals. Some of this may come from Kulash’s background as an Art-Semiotics student at Brown University (yeah, think about those found objects when you watch the Rube Goldberg video). Earlier this year OK Go parted ways with EMI/Capitol and formed independent Paracadute Records. In a recent interview with PBS NewsHour, Kulash commented that the business model of the music industry did not aid their creative projects any longer. In pursuit to freely creating and sharing their work, OK Go promotes net neutrality. As a part of this, Kulash has contributed to the New York Times and Washington Post and has testified with guitarist Andy Ross on Capitol Hill. See? Much more than treadmills.


With OK Go it is hard to predict what you are going to get. Serious, creative, geeky, smart, artistic; maybe all of the above. Certainly, you will get a group that follows their creative senses whole-heartedly and takes art seriously, usually in an inventively fun way.