Six years ago, Simian Mobile Disco's Jas Shaw spoke to XLR8R TV about the duo's live set-up. At one point, he gestured to a piece of equipment and said, "It never does the same thing twice, so it kind of adds an element of random gibberish to the show… which is something that we treasure." Clearly, there's more to the process than "random gibberish," a fact that's demonstrated with aplomb on Simian Mobile Disco's aptly titled Live. Bubbling with enthusiasm and professionalism in equal measure, the album was recorded in a single take during the end of a 2012 tour. On a grander scale, it's a testament to SMD's versatility that never lingers in one place for too long, merging 16 tracks from the duo's extensive catalog into an organic, free-flowing beast that incorporates everything from Temporary Pleasure's dip into saccharine pop territory to the dark, leftfield techno of the recent Unpatterns LP.
The mix begins with the forlorn, pitched-down moans of "Your Love Ain't Fair" slowly blossoming into the elastic clomp of "Run Theme," a track filled with the kind of on-the-fly frenetic energy that's tough to recreate outside of a live setting. Even as singular efforts, each production on Live has been tweaked enough to sound fresh. The live version of "Unfixed" throws the source material into a whirling disarray, and the cavernous, hand-plucked bleeps of "Cerulean" sound much more monumental with the original's wind-chime percussion stripped away.
Onstage mics picking up ambient crowd noise serve as a reminder that the music on Live was made for an audience, and the surging live energy is palpable at 40 minutes in, when "Wooden" offers careening synth work before dipping into a moment of silence. The serenity is immediately broken by the encouraging hollers of the crowd, a small touch that helps Live encapsulate the climactic energy of a live SMD show.
Critics have occasionally cited SMD's inability to commit to either unblinkingly functional techno or hook-reliant electro pop as one of the project's supposed weaknesses, but Live does its part to refute that notion. Perhaps realizing that it's divisive and reductive to only dabble in one or the other, SMD opts for a satisfactory middle ground in its live sets, rearranging the pair's accessible pop moments as skeletal reincarnations of themselves. For instance, the morse-code pulse of "It's The Beat" remains, but it's been bolstered with a weighty bass thump and acid-flanged effects. Similarly, "Hustler"'s whispered ode to shoplifting discards every recognizable element but its vocal shell.
At 55 minutes in, there are a few seconds where everything cuts out but a lone kick drum; it's an ominous pause before the bombastic finale to come. Live closes by intertwining "Put Your Hands Together" with "Sleep Deprivation," resulting in a spiralling climax that's chaotic, frantic, and compelling—but never "gibberish." It's the type of build-up that those familiar with Simian Mobile Disco will revel in, and that others who have strayed from the duo's production work in recent years will see as a welcome homecoming.