Last night I had the pleasure of attending the premiere live performance of Got a Girl, the latest project from legendary Bay Area producer Dan Nakamura (aka Dan the Automator) at Seattle’s Triple Door venue. Over the years the Automator has gained a reputation for eclectic beats drawing from a wide variety of influences starting from Dr. Octagon, his early collaboration with Kool Keith, and continuing through later projects such as Bombay the Hard Way, Peeping Tom and the first Gorillaz album.
With Got a Girl, Dan the Automator collaborated with actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead whom he first met while working on the soundtrack for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Their album was released a couple years ago and combined the romanticism, postmodern sensibility, and cinematic ambiance of his various past projects including Lovage, Handsome Boy Modeling School and Deltron 3030. For last night’s performance at the Triple Door, the Automator took on the suave lounge lizard persona of his album covers and videos while Winstead delivered powerful and emotive vocals in the style of an archetypal nightclub chanteuse. Backing them up was a three piece band who effortlessly replicated the sound of the album’s multilayered production and hybrid sound stylings.
The band started off the show and set the mood of the evening with an instrumental version of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Je T’Aime, Moi Non Plus” segueing into the single “Did We Live Too Fast” which cued the dramatic entrance of Winstead and the Automator. Even with the live band it sounded remarkably like the studio version, though this impression may have been heightened by their precise timing with the music video projected behind the performers. For the rest of the set, the visual backdrop consisted of an assortment of reedited cult films matching the atmosphere of the music. Most seemed to be of the French New Wave, Giallo and Bond knock-off genres, but included a few offbeat favorites such as Harold and Maude, Blow-Up, and The Red Balloon.
It’s fitting that Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also a film actress because the music borrows as much from classic movie soundtracks as retro French pop music. Influences from noted composers I was able to pick up on included Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herrmann, John Barry and Burt Bacharach. I’d be surprised if Winstead didn’t have formal music training because her vocal delivery blended the best elements of iconic pop vocalists such as Jane Birkin and Shirley Bassey while her dance moves were graceful and perfectly in sync with the music and imagery.
Because of the live band Dan the Automator seemingly had less to do than in a standard DJ set yet retained a magnetic presence as master of ceremonies. Instead of turntables and laptop he used a small device which had built in sampler, keyboard, loops, and effects functions. On a few songs he also contributed with maracas and backup vocals. Oddly, there was a mini bar set up on the side of the stage where he’d periodically mix and consume drinks with band mates throughout the performance. While I have nothing against partaking in a drug of choice in front of an adult audience (especially if it’s part of a schtick or, as the Automator hinted at, to take the edge off stage fright), it did bring to mind how far we have to go as a culture until cannabis is just as widely accepted as alcohol. Especially because of the heady nature of the music (seemingly designed to be enhanced by cannabis), it’s a shame performers and patrons of venues such as the Triple Door aren’t yet able to enjoy cannabis as freely as alcohol. That being said, the Triple Door was nevertheless a fitting venue for Got a Girl; as timelessly stylish and refined as the music.
Though there were no opening acts it was a substantial and consistently polished set (aside from an early technical issue with the guitar). This was especially impressive given this was the group’s premiere live performance and they played the entirety of the album plus a new track and a couple songs from the Handsome Boy Modeling School back catalog as an encore. As a longtime fan I’m happy to report Dan the Automator’s skills are still up to par and his creativity and inspiration continues to expand with the help of new partners such as Mary Elizabeth Winstead.