The Octopus Project is a really cool, really experimental band banging around Austin. They’re described as an “indietronic” band, which, alright, that’s a thing. I’d call them a mix of traditional rock instruments (drum kits, guitars) with a lot of digital and electronic elements (keyboards, synthesizers, drum machines) and a smattering of other non-traditional instruments (like the Theremin and random noise-making stuff). Maybe about half of their compositions have words, so they perform a lot of strictly instrumental songs. All of the members are multi-instrumentalists, so seeing their shows live are particularly interesting since they’re always switching things up, trading instruments and devices, moving around the stage, and pulling out new things to add to their sound that were just, like, chilling behind an amp somewhere.
What I also adore about The Octopus Project is that they are way neater to see in person than probably any other band in Austin right now. Obviously there are a ton of bands that have a great energy, that are funny and engaging and tear it up during a live show, but The Octopus Project pays so much attention to their visuals that it’s truly an integral part of the show. You’re not just coming for the music, you’re coming for the whole experience. This is why I was particularly excited about their recent show in the Texas Spirit Theater as part of their album tour, called “The Octopus Project: ‘Memory Mirror’ Multisensory Menagerie” which was an accurate if somewhat alliterated way of describing the show.
So, the Texas Spirit Theater is this smallish theater at the Bullock History Museum where the museum generally shows their Texas history films. They call it a “multi-sensory” theater, but really it’s a smaller version of the old 4-D stuff you used to get at Universal studios – the chairs vibrate, the screens expand around the sides, there are puffs of air and water you can mist on people, and a whole lot of fog. Kind of dorky but fun for kids. But having seen The Octopus Project perform before and knowing what their deal was, I was ready to see what they could do with their show and the possibilities in this theater.
First, the good: the show was amazing. The band played mostly from their new album which I was completely unfamiliar with, but the cool thing about The Octopus Project is you don’t need to know the songs – you can just sit back and let all of the sounds and sights wash over you. And having the show in the Spirit Theater itself was an amazing idea. The theater allowed for a translucent screen to be raised and lowered in front of the band, plus the visuals were projected not only in front of you, but in the screens that wrapped around the side of the theaters, leading to some really immersive views. Very cool. The light effects were more advanced than you typically find in a small venue as well, because this was a proper theater, after all, even though it’s small. And yeah, it was neat that the seats vibrated at timed points in the set, as well as the blowing wind effect to go with their sound and songs, along with some of the other multi-sensory stuff. It was just kind of a different music-going experience altogether, which in and of itself was cool. It was more work for the band — juggling all that stuff — but they did an amazing job both in planning and in execution of the multiple light effects, sounds, projections, and other effects during their set, all remarkable.
Now, the awkward: it was super weird to go to an Octopus Project show and then sit down. The Spirit Theater is not a music venue at all, so it was strange to enter this room and then settle down into a proper theater seat to watch a band like the Octopus Project (because when you’re at an Octopus Project show, you want to move! You want to feel those funky beats). Also, the theater was definitely not made for live performances. The band has a lot of equipment, plus they move around a lot. You could tell they were a little crowded trying to work around the screen that came down in the front, trying to stay behind it, in addition to staying in front of the drop down screen behind them that hung from the ceiling. This theater has a lot of screens. But they were definitely well-rehearsed and the show was as seamless as you could expect in those circumstances, even if they did get a bit tangled in their own equipment once or twice. The enhanced visuals were definitely worth it.
Also — and this part is kind of hilarious – I think there was some confusion among a few audience members about what kind of show this was. As I was going in, I noticed that some of the other people in the crowd were…older. Like, significantly older. Older than you might typically find at any other Octopus Project show, ever. And there were also kids there. Not teenagers, but kids under age the age of 10. At first I was like, “Yeah, people in Austin are so cool! We love live music! We love live music well into our 70s! We bring our kids!” But about 2/3rds of the way through the show, my mom leaned over to me (yeah, I go to shows with my mom because that’s how I roll) and she asked, “When does the Texas history part come into it?” and at that point I realized that there might be some older members of the audience who thought that this show was just a really hip way to learn about Texas history.
But on the other hand, it did seem like any confused audience members went with it, Texas history or not. I can kind of see where the mix-up might have come from – it you didn’t know the band or missed the descriptor that the show was part of their album tour, you could have easily thought it had something to do with Texas history, since it was at the frigging history museum. And to the Octopus Project’s credit, they lowered down the gigantic Texas flag that hangs above the stage during their final song, so there you go. We got our dose of Texas.
All it all, it was a great show, but even more so it makes me happy to live in a musical community where old people do show up to gigs like this, and like them! Or that bands are out there looking to do imaginative things in interesting places. Or that musicians are working hard to make live shows experiences instead of just carbon copies of a recording track. That is cool stuff right there, and The Octopus Project is doing it all. There should also be a venue in Austin with the same visual capabilities of the Spirit Theater, but designed specifically for music. That would be rad, people. Someone with money and resources should totally get on that.
Clearly, I highly recommend seeing The Octopus Project; they are by far one of the most interesting bands performing regularly in town (and on tour). Their most recent album is Memory Mirror, available at http://www.theoctopusproject.com/merch.html in CD, LP and cassette version. Yeah, cassette. Or just download it wherever you buy music. But they truly impress in a live venue and I would more so recommend seeing a live show (for example, their next show at Barracuda on Friday, June 19th).
For the uninitiated, here they are doing an excellent version of “Wrong Gong” (but also looking disappointingly normal as a band) on KUTX Austin (but trust me, their live shows are where it’s at:
The Octopus Project performed their show “’Memory Mirror’ Multisensory Menagerie” at the Texas Spirit Theater on May 12, 2017.