EDM on a concert stage is a dicey thing.
For one thing, the music is made mostly on computers and requires almost no stage movement to effect. So you often end up with the sort of overgrown horseplay-among-bros that leads to the likes of Steve Aoki’s (long retired) throw-the-cake-at-the-audience routine. But sometimes a couple of beat-makers will add band members to good effect, such as Disclosure’s early U.S. performances.
Then there are the EDM acts that effectively make themselves over into rock bands. Take Mako, who played the 7th St Entry on Sunday. Formed in Los Angeles as the duo of Logan Light (producer) and Alex Seaver (singer-songwriter), they began by making air-horn anthems with the likes of Avicii, Sander van Doorn, and R3hab.
But in fall 2015, Light told the Michigan Daily: “We’re planning to put an album out in January or February, and hopefully we can tour if people enjoy it. It will be more of a live band ordeal, so we can try and transition into that and get out of the DJ stigma and the DJ world. Because the way we write the music is more like a pop or a rock band.”
Aside from the word “ordeal” leaping out (he probably just meant “deal”), what’s striking about this is both how true it ended up being—and only not for Light, who recently left Mako. Seaver has put together a guitar-bass-drums trio to back him on the tour that brought them to the Entry for an 18-plus, early evening show (doors at 7:30, band done by 10:30).
I eyeballed the room at about five-eighths full. They were ordinary kids who, as one club employee put it, “had never been here before,” very polite and deeply attentive. During Mako’s hour-long performance, the entire roomful of bodies was packed tightly but respectfully on the Entry’s small lower floor. A berth from the entrance to the bar, about seven feet wide, was completely empty.
Seaver reminded me a little of a larval Adam Levine. He has immaculate hair and stubble, as well as camera-ready squinces (squints + winces) to accompany the sort of clenched-jaw ballads, sung in a parched whisper, that somehow signifies as “real” to some people. And he wasn’t uncharming. “I hear you’ve got something here next weekend,” he noted of the forthcoming Super Bowl before launching into last year’s non-LP single “Breathe.” “Honestly, it looks like a nuisance.” He wants to be the Chainsmokers you could take home to Mom.
Seaver’s dorm-room poetic clichés are invested with gusto if not meaning. The four-piece rock instrumentation was typically put over electronic backing, which made the riffs seem even more butt-simple. When Mako opened their encore with “Into the Sunset,” a track whose layers of digital effluvia are its most striking aspect, the lack of electronic backing audible during the build made clear how one-note the songwriting is.
But sometimes one note is all you need. “Smoke Filled Room,” from their 2016 bow Hourglass, got a decent-sized sing-along, and no wonder—it’s a country power ballad in phat pants. (It also made the U.S. digital singles Top 20, though not the Hot 100—or, needless to say, the Hot Country chart.) “The coolest is going to a city you’ve never been to and have everybody singing the words to a song you wrote,” Seaver said. Yeah, well, we like our bar songs here. They followed up with “Into the Sunset,” whose verse’s lite-reggae accent before revving into a flat-four chorus made it plain that Seaver cares more about classic rock than classic drops.