Archive for March, 2010

29
Mar
10

YACHT / Washed Out / Bobby Birdman (and others) – Echoplex 3/26/10

Last Friday night at the Echoplex was a loaded lineup of promising and relatively new bands.  YACHT headlined a night of bands that at least superficially – to this lay-person – have one thing in common – they all have pre-recorded backing tracks (usually electronic beats and maybe some synths) that they fill out to varying degrees with live instruments, sequencers and vocals.  While this gives all the bands a similar feel of skeletal/DIY/bedroomyness, each band brings something a little different in terms of the actual songs (and competent execution of those songs).  And it seems to me that as they gain a larger audience, all of these bands have learned (in the case of YACHT) or are learning (Washed Out) important lessons about how to satisfactorily translate their tracks for the best live experience – essentially you need some live instruments; jumping around while twisting knobs just doesn’t cut it.

Pictureplane – Although I had heard a bit about this artist, I couldn’t make it in time for his set.  I was bummed I should support anything interesting coming out of my hometown of Denver. I did buy his CD at the merch table, and have been enjoying it.

Bobby Birdman – I didn’t know anything about Bobby Birdman (no relation to Harvey) before the show, and I enjoyed his set. His set up was himself (?) on guitar and a drummer playing over full-fledged backing tracks.  Unlike any of the other bands on the lineup, this guy has a true crooner’s vocals.  One track was a particular stand out, “You’d Be Surprised.”  I found this video that doesn’t quite do the song justice – you could hear the vocals better:

I’m looking forward to hearing more from Birdman in the future.

Small Black – these guys weren’t bad, but seemed better suited as Washed Out’s backing band, which brings us to…

Washed Out – This was my first encounter with one of the leaders in the still-nascent chillwave/glo-fi/whatever-you-want-to-call-it genre (fad?) – aka last summer’s Brand New Thing.  After hearing some not so kind reviews of my favorite artist in the genre, Memory Tapes, I worried that Washed Out would fail to reproduce his faded-lush tapedeck-warble sounds in a live setting.

The first few songs of the set had me worried because he  was just doing karaoke over his tracks while occasionally twisting a knob or two.  Although this wasn’t terrible (because the tracks aren’t that bad), it wasn’t a very compelling concert experience.  This despite Greene working himself into a sweaty lather by jumping around and exhorting the crowd to move.  Perhaps to divert attention from himself Greene had no stage lights except for a rather cheesy LED light ring on a stand slightly behind him to the left that seemed to spin at random with no real synchronization with the music.  However, when he invited Small Black out to help him perform songs from the great Life of Leisure EP, things changed dramatically.  The stage lights came on and the cheesy LED ring was shut down.

With a full band to fill out the sound, I was most surprised by how bouncy and danceable most of the tracks were, especially “You’ll See It.”  At this point the crowd was into it and by the time he closed out the set with stand out track “Feel It All Around,” everyone locked into a mellow groove.  (I couldn’t find a video of it.)

YACHT

What a difference a few years make!  My first and only encounter with YACHT was as the opening act for the amazing LCD Soundsystem show at the El Rey in June of 2007.  Ahead of the show I listened to few tracks off the net and found myself intrigued, so I made sure to show up early.  Unfortunately, YACHT at that time was just Jona Bechtolt (at the time the sole creative force behind the project) spazzing out on stage to his mostly mediocre pre-recorded tracks (see a theme developing here?).  Disappointed, I quickly forgot about YACHT until the release of last year’s See Mystery Lights.

See Mystery Lights was easily one of my favorite albums of last year.  The addition of Claire L. Evans on vocals and a move to the DFA label (and emulation of their label/tour mates, LCD Soundsystem) made for songs that were both more poppy and danceable than Bechtolt’s previous work.   Clearly I had to give YACHT another chance, and I was glad I did.

YACHT greatly benefits from having Evans sharing the stage and vocal duties, as well as having Bobby Birdman playing as the backup band.  Now the focus is split between two equally charismatic M/F performers and the sound is a bit more than just the pre-recorded album tracks (which still factor into the performance, despite the presence of Birdman).

Almost as important as the live arrangement, is the overall tone of the show which was a combination of new-age cult seminar and a sincere, good-natured deconstruction of the “live concert” experience.  Bechtolt wore an all-white suit like some kind of Pentecostal revivalist while Evans was the perfect foil in sheer black hosiery and black bra.  The two guys from Bobby Birdman were true pros in traditional tuxes.

(note the philosophical treatise projected behind them)

Throughout the show, text was projected behind the band that read like some kind of new-age philosophical treatise (quick summary from trying to read most of it: both science and religion are placeholders for a reality that neither cannot wholly describe; that God is essentially the universe itself, and the quicker we accept that, the better).  Songs like “The Afterlife” and “Ring the Bell” whose lyrics both deal in Big Questions, only reinforce the new-age-seminar-as-rock-show-vibe.

Ring the Bell:

Furthermore, as they state on their website, YACHT seeks to knock down the barriers between themselves and the audience.  Thus, at various points in the show they seemed to genuinely care whether the audience was enjoying themselves – basically they took the standard band banter of “how are you feeling tonight?” and asking it very directly, seriously and repeatedly.  At one point Bechtolt went a step further by saying that “when bands ask that, they are basically asking if you like them.  So, do you like us?”

This video also shows the type of cult-like aesthetic this new manifestation of YACHT is cultivating:

The whole effect of the posturing and semi-coherent new-age babble is a band that is sincere but also treating their sincerity with a decent bit of levity…it is an indie rock show after all, right?  But then after the show while perusing the merch table, I came across these flyers, “YACHT Official Tattoo Policy” and “YACHT Recommended Mantras”:

YACHT pamphlet Tattoo

YACHT pamphlet mantras

Regardless of how serious (or not) this version of YACHT is, it was a refreshing concert experience and I look forward to seeing them again – perhaps opening for LCD Soundsystem when they come back through this summer or fall after Coachella.

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