Farewell, Broadcast's Trish Keenan: One Fan Remembers
Trish Keenan was a presence. The earliest New York shows by her British psychedelic pop band, Broadcast, were unforgettable: I remember her onstage at Bowery Ballroom -- where no group has sounded better -- up front, a statuesque reincarnation of Grace Slick, nearly motionless within a maelstrom of light and melody as her four bandmates unfurled ribbons of perfect, prismatic pop. "Perfect" is a terrible descriptor but it's a word that was used by more than a few to describe Broadcast circa 2000. They were so good it seemed like they'd sprung out of someone's imagination. The songs compiled on 1997's Work and Non Work (released in the states by Drag City) and Broadcast's first album proper, 2000's The Noise Made by People (Tommy Boy) were and remain pulsatingly evocative, drawing on influences that were more obscure at the dawn of the Internet Age. In an interview in 2000, the bandmembers spoke passionately to me about the music of the United States of America (a '60s act I barely knew), as they did in every interview around then, but also about the British library music of the '60s and '70s, names like Delia Derbyshire and Basil Kirchin, music with a very particularly English sort of retro-futuristic vibe (think of the atmosphere of Space: 1999 -- it never could've come from the U.S.). I pressed them for details, knowing full well I was gathering info that would never appear in the article; they were fans and they cited their influences proudly.
And yet, the most memorable part of that interview came when Trish learned I had a dog. Suddenly she was asking the questions, and when she learned it was a female she leaned back and cooed in her thick Birmingham accent, "Oooh, I love the bitches!"
Broadcast changed a lot over the course of the '00s, shedding members until just Trish and her partner James Cargill remained. Their music darkened and grew more intense and experimental. All of the mystery, wonder and suspense they loved in their influences gradually subverted (though never banished) their pop instincts on 2003's Haha Sound and 2005's Tender Buttons. By the release of the collaborative Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age in 2009, Broadcast had come to inhabit the swirling soundtrack music that they had name-checked nearly a decade prior. At the Music Hall of Williamsburg that October -- the last time I saw them play -- Keenan and Cargill stood behind synthesizers, facing each other in profile to the audience, hidden in shadow, while arcane images I can't precisely remember but will never exactly forget exploded onto a back screen. They played sounds, not songs, but all the color and melody of their earliest work was in there somewhere. It was crushingly loud and thrillingly disorienting, and all I could think about afterward was where Broadcast would go next. I found Trish after the show and she remembered me, from nine years earlier. She was telling the truth; she asked about my dog.
And now comes the sudden news that this unforgettable, faraway person is gone, felled by complications from pneumonia. Trish Keenan left a lot behind--both music and fans. If you don't know Broadcast, now would be as good a time as any to start learning: