Neon Indian at First Avenue, 5/4/12

Neon Indian
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Friday, May 4, 2012

On record, Neon Indian is dynamic and an utterly fun band to listen to. The electro-tinged music seems it would almost automatically translate well into a live setting. Friday night at First Avenue found much what is contained in the previous few sentences false, however, as Neon Indian put on an uninspired, sloppy performance.

It began promisingly enough, but soon slid into the realm of background music with just a few high points along the way. The stage décor, consisting of almost nothing but a giant, neon-accented contraption that looked a lot like one of the Telepods from Cronenberg's The Fly, was also a letdown. It seemed that for how complicated-looking the giant gadget was, it should have done more. Even though it was only flashing a multitude of different lights into the crowd and wafted smoke from it's underside every so often, it didn't do either of those things nearly enough to justify it's presence onstage.

Lead singer (and really the heart and soul of Neon Indian) Alan Palomo dedicated the set to the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch, who the world learned had passed on earlier in the day, and it was a nice, if expected, gesture. Still, it's hard to imagine MCA being touched by such a lifeless performance in his honor. About halfway through the set, "Fallout" from last year's stellar, video-game inspired Era Extraña (translation: "it was strange") arrived and it was by far the highlight of the set. It turned out to be the sole song that didn't sound rushed or like the band had hastily assembled it just before taking the stage. Neon Indian's sound is sparse, but it's also--on record, at least--precise, it's part of what makes them enjoyable, but they took that element out of the equation on Friday night, made everything more fluid and in the process more muddy; the magic got lost in the process.

The last half of the set seemed to be in a kind of tailspin. It consisted of just driving, thumping bass, lyrics that were hard to understand and songs that seemed almost interchangeable--nothing was distinct about any of them and it had the overall feel of a bargain bin '80s sci-fi film soundtrack. They tacked on a senseless, flat encore with Palomo telling the crowd "This may turn into a couple more [songs] if the vibe is right," which shined a blisteringly hot light on something else: for a band whose songs are among the most danceable of any band in the past few years, there was very little of it happening in the crowd. They (surprisingly, really) played a couple of more but by then it was all for naught. It was their last week of this tour and maybe they were tired or burned-out, but Neon Indian treated everyone to a second-rate performance Friday that left many scratching their heads by the end of it. Era extraña, indeed.

Critic's Bias: I missed Neon Indian's show here last fall, but it had been unpopular with friends who attended it. I kept that in mind on Friday, though I was hopeful that their previous show here had been an anomaly. I was disappointed that it wasn't.

The Crowd: Young and largely female. There were also plenty of couples, too, all of whom seemed to want to make out and/or grind on each other for the entire show.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I want to drink lemonade, not listen to Lemonade." (The opening band left a lot to be desired.)

Random Notebook Dump: Using video game SFX as a jumping off point is a nice idea and worked well on record, but the live show is missing a ton of pieces.

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