Review: The Books at Wexner Center

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The Wexner Center was built for a band like the Books.

Theirs is a music made for art installations, fraught with brain-stimulating ideas but generally calm enough to soothe rather than disorient. So it was a perfect fit for the Wex's intimate Performance Space, where the duo born Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong perched in chairs in front of painstakingly assembled video projections — old home movies and manipulated text, mostly. This was about as far from rock and roll as it gets.

Zammuto and de Jong shuffled through an array of stringed instruments, combining guitar, cello and bass over pre-canned studio tracks. The music was as revelatory as ever, showing off the Books' knack for heartstring-tugging as much as the aforementioned brain massage. Their technical proficiency was surprisingly high; I never expected Eddie Van Halen-style finger-tapping on a bass could sound so tasteful.

Zammuto often contributed vocals as well. On record, part of the Books' appeal is how they make raw human emotion sound otherworldly through their expert treatment of samples. With Zammuto delivering lyrics before my eyes, the music gained intimacy at the price of mystique.

That raises the question: What's the point of these guys being on stage at all? Their instrumental parts could easily be folded back into pre-recorded mix, and their meek between-song banter drew comparisons to NPR hosts from my buddy Mark. As lovely as their music was last night, and as wonderfully as it interacted with the films, their presence was almost more of a distraction than a boon, especially when they decided on a second run through set closer "Smells Like Content" because they weren't pleased with the first try. If they're going to go the live performance route, they should add improvisation, recruit more musicians to add something visceral — something to make worthwhile staring at two awkward dudes in front of the projection screen.