Trans Am are a puzzling band. Having spent years lacing their distinctive brand of instrumental rock with layers of irony and innuendo, they leave the listener guessing whether to take them seriously or not. The line between arrogance and self-deprecation is blurred beyond recognition. It is this sense of uncertainty that makes their music so exciting.
The Washington DC-based trio were in London’s Corsica Studios as part of the European Tour in support of the new album ‘Thing’. Support came from Thrill Jockey label mates Lazer Crystal: three Chicagoans sharing Trans Am’s interest in futuristic soundscapes. The rapid succession of Lazer’s pulsating synthetic beats and drone-like drums sounded like a krautrock record played at double speed. Before we could get our bearings, the half-hour set went by in a flash.
The pace was kept up by Trans Am, who briskly assembled their complex set on Corsica Studio’s crammed stage. After 20 years as a band, they still put the equipment together themselves. Whether the DIY attitude is due to financial reasons or obsession with technical precision is unclear, like everything else about them.
Digging deep into their extensive catalogue, the band sailed through track after track of perfectly delivered synth-rock extravaganza, breaking the crowd into a full-out dance to what shouldn’t really be dancing music. Defying conventional song structure, the music alternated between robotic vocals, ultra-fast drum solos and lead guitar sections that sounded like a fighter jet at take off, backed by plenty of woolly bass lines. The ‘jamy’ factor of Trans Am’s albums came alive at the show, multiplying the impact of each sound effect. The interplay on new track ‘Heaven’s Gate’ was a particular stand-out.
It all sounded like a soundtrack to an 80s sci-fi B film, cringy in theory but compelling in practice. “This song is about your supermarkets,” said guitarist Philip Manley before launching into a completely instrumental psychedelic track that reminded more of planet Dune than Tesco Express. The show ended with freaked out Zeppelin-esque ‘Play in The Summer’ off 2000’s ‘The Red Line', the closest Trans Am have to a 'hit' , leaving the audience applauding for more.
Trans Am are on tour now. Tickets can be bought here.