Co-headlining shows invite unfair comparisons.
Clark and Com Truise, who delivered a euphoric though somewhat imbalanced double headlining performance Sunday night at the Fine Line, hail from very different sectors of the electronic music sphere. The U.K.-born, Berlin-based Clark has a dark, decay-filled experimental aesthetic, while the L.A.-based Com Truise deals in more familiar chillwave. The two don’t overlap a whole lot (although Clark’s song “Com Touch,” on his 2012 album Iradelphic, gets close).
As such, the two artists maintain divergent fan bases who'll inevitably have wanted their guy to play: a) a longer set; b) after the sun has set; and c) during the typical headliner slot, last in the evening.
To cut to the chase: I am that fan, and Clark is my guy.
Billed as “Death Peak Live,” Clark’s set focused largely on material from his latest release Death Peak, released in April on Warp, the artist’s longtime label. Clark’s performance, however, couldn’t have been farther from a front-to-back recitation of the album. Clark is known for producing electronic sounds live on stage through his extensive setup that includes both analog and digital elements -- keyboards, synthesizers, drum machines, and a laptop running Ableton – which allow him to improvise, expanding and contracting songs and reworking instrumentation to keep things fresh and raw.
Clark's rendition of album standout “Butterfly Prowler” was particularly stirring in its length and depth. Just over four minutes long on the recorded version, Clark’s live version was twice as long, spanning several chapters of nervous arpeggiated counterpoint, a bass line serving as connective tissue as the song tumbled by like a locomotive speeding through the Black Forest, its horn of distorted, warped choirs blaring all the while.
Clark was in a state of constant, focused motion throughout his set, moving from one element to the other, his arms sometimes stretched to the max as he straddled multiple components. As he grooved and bobbed to the music from his foggy spot between two LED-lit scaffolds (the type you might see at a rave in a bakery warehouse), the audience was right there with him, bobbing along blissfully (except for the wall of tall in the front row, who were either completely mesmerized or simply waiting patiently for Com Truise).
Pausing for applause before launching Death Peak single “Hoova,” Clark launched into the song with a bass beat that sounded like Bigfoot was on the loose and clapping with cymbals made of thunderous sheet metal. As the strobe lights on stage suggested chaos and another locomotive-like synth line flashed by at full throttle, Clark slammed the brakes just in time, applying a sudden Bambaataa-like breakbeat.
From its juicy initial piano plunks, Clark’s rendition of “Peak Magnetic,” the most optimistic, upbeat single from the new album, was among the most dance-inspiring, its bodily bass inspiring more traditional techno stepping from the full, space-challenged crowd.
Clark steered the remainder of his set away from the desolate second half of Death Peak by swapping in several older re-worked tracks, including a heavy, reverent rendition of “Springtime Linn” from his 2015 EP Flame Rave, and “Growls Garden” from his 2009 full length Totems Flare, the latter featuring cranked up synths that could probably start a lawn mower if you pulled on them just right, and deep, throaty Matthew Dear-like vocals, which, though pre-recorded, were the artist’s own (and incidentally the only time we would hear his voice all evening), reciting the following lines before skittering to a dark, ebullient, abrupt end: “Winter, sunbeam/ Break the cold ship of light/ I will find you, in the garden/ Slowly trying, slowly dying.”
An exceedingly quick set change replaced Clark’s gear and scaffolds with Com Truise’s streamlined setup of synths and Ableton-generated drum loops (he no longer plays with a live drummer), and six LED panels were placed in a window-like row on the back curtain. Then Seth Haley aka Com Truise began his set of his trademark nostalgia-rich synth-wave by launching into “Norkuy” from 2011’s Cyanide Sisters EP, a thick, heavy summer groove meant for a mellow night of rooftop chilling (which was understood even before Haley’s beautifully designed magenta cityscapes ambled by on the LED screens behind him).
The visual aspect of Com Truise’s set proved to be an important component of his performance. Like fellow Ghostly International artist Tycho, Com Truise began his career as a graphic designer and art director. As a result, his work maintains a striking “'80s nostalgia meets inter-celestial android funk” brand across album art, visuals, and merch, even crossing over to his music. At times during his set, the heavily-branded synth-wave nostalgia was so thick you could almost smell the BPA-rich plastics of the 1980s. Nostalgia tends to turn stale if we inhabit it for too long, and while a rooftop hangout might be the perfect setting for this brand of synth-wave, the Fine Line floor was ready for an infusion of fresh air and a break from the hazy chillwave drums Haley favors (made famous by Washed Out’s nostalgic groove “Feel It All Around,” the Portlandia theme song).
That break was delivered with new Com Truise song “Isostasy,” performed mid-set. If this new song is any indicator, his forthcoming album Iteration, which drops June 16, just after the conclusion of the Clark/ Com Truise 40-stop North American tour, will steep the artist's '80s-drenched sound with fewer plastics and synthetics, instead infusing the synth layers with more breathing room and a confident eye towards the future.
The crowd: Freshly sunburned and digging t-shirt/ tank top season (t-shirts of note ranged from Aphex Twin and M.C. Escher to Eyedea, Reptilian Records, and several NASA shirts).
Overheard in the crowd: “Why does this have to be at the Fine Line? Ugh.”
Critic’s bias: I’m inclined to agree. However, I appreciated the slightly less obtrusive Fine Line staff this evening. (Summer means no sudden, awkward mandatory coat checks!)
Random notebook dump: As Clark has evolved musically, he’s used vocals with decipherable lyrics less and less (and even more sparingly in his live performances). But if you dig sexy vocal samples and are looking for a point of entry to his oeuvre, give “Hours” from his 2015 EP Winter Boots Pt. 1 a shot.