Washed Out at First Avenue, 9/12/13
Photo By Jack Nielsen
First Avenue, Minneapolis
September 12, 2013
A troubling trend amongst many of the breakout stars of the modern chillwave scene is that the textured songs they meticulously crafted in their bedrooms ultimately fail to translate well to the stage, and their live shows fall flat simply because their delicate music wasn't created with the idea that they would ever be played in front of an audience. So whether it's a lone artist with a laptop, or a band hastily assembled to try and replicate these dreamy songs in a live setting, the performances typically lack passion, soul, and focus, leaving crowds wondering if they would have been better off just listening to the album -- or if in fact they just heard a straight run through of the record without any embellishments to make it actually feel and sound like a live experience.
Last night at First Avenue, Washed Out delivered a pristine, ethereal hour-long show that set a new standard for how chillwave shows should sound and look, as Ernest Greene and his talented four-piece backing band delivered a truly stunning show in their first Minneapolis live performance.
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The stage was decorated warmly with flowers, lights, and strings of simple but striking bird-like bits of paper that all created a elegant, inviting atmosphere before the band even played a note. And rather than come out and remain fixed behind a laptop or keyboards all night, Greene proved to be a personable, jubilant frontman, playing the role of a chillwave cheerleader trying to get the reticent Minneapolis crowd to lose their inhibitions and dance to the towering beats the band was generating.
In addition to Greene's acoustic guitar (which mostly got buried in the mix), the start of the show featured a stand-up bassist, who gave "It All Feels Right" and "Belong" a textured, resonant low end. Having a live drummer as part of the band also gave these electronic-driven songs a lively, vigorous rhythm which continually drove the songs forward, augmented by the layered tones of the electric guitarist and the keyboard work and backing vocals of Greene's wife, Blair, who rounded out the backing band.
But ultimately the success of the show depended on Greene himself, who injected plenty of his amiable personality into these buoyant, soaring numbers, giving them a welcome depth and potency that is only suggested in the studio versions. The well-paced set proved transfixing straight from the start, with the band drawing on material from throughout Washed Out's burgeoning career.
Photo By Jack Nielsen
In fact, Greene included as many songs from 2009's Life Of Leisure EP as he did from his recently-released new album, Paracosm, and played more tracks from his debut LP, Within And Without, than he did from his new record. But the mix of songs proved to be perfect, as both longtime fans and new listeners were treated to a hypnotic blend of captivating tracks that easily charmed the full house.
Before an entrancing version of "New Theory," Greene took a moment to thank the responsive crowd, "This is our first trip to Minneapolis. We're really excited to be here. I've got no idea why it's taken this long." And indeed, the level of anticipation inside the club was pretty high, with area music fans having fallen under the spell of Washed Out's albums for a while now, while patiently waiting for Greene to bring those songs to an area stage. And hopefully, this mesmerizing performance will be just the first of many shows he and his band play here.
A particularly dynamic version of "Get Up" proved to be one of the night's clear standouts, with the crowd clapping along to the track's infectious beats while the outro to the song featured a fierce electric guitar solo that even impressed Greene, who quipped after the song wound down, "I think the spirit of Prince just entered the room." The show majestically rolled on with lovely versions of "You And I" and "Don't Give Up," but the performance really hit its peak with a glorious, towering rendition of "All I Know," which sounded absolutely massive booming out of First Ave's soundsystem.
The band kept the energy level high as the main set finished with the entrancing combination of "Feel It All Around," and "Amor Fati," with the crowd finally loosening up a bit and dancing along to the indelible, spiraling sounds the band were generating. "Thanks so much, Minneapolis. You guys have been fucking awesome," Greene said affectionately as the band left for the encore break. "I really don't know why it's taken us so long to play here."
Photo By Jack Nielsen
The crowd continued the ovation throughout the brief encore break, and were rewarded when the band retook the stage, with Greene mentioning, "This is for the old school Washed Out fans" before leading the band through "Despicable Dog," a track that was featured on a split-EP that Greene did with his friends in Small Black. It was clearly a song that meant a lot to him as well, as his eyes remained closed tightly while he delivered the impassioned vocals, giving the song a stirring sentiment that only added to its appeal.
And, appropriately enough, the show ended with an effervescent version of "Eyes Be Closed," which rang out vivaciously throughout the club. These stirring songs that Ernest Greene initially crafted in various bedrooms and basements were confidently and assertively transformed at First Avenue, leaving the chillwave comparisons in the dust while leaving the crowd mesmerized and only wanting more.
Personal Bias: I am a big fan of both Washed Out LP's, but came in wary of what Greene could pull off with his live show. Those doubts were alleviated after the first song.
The Crowd: A pretty full house, but most of the crowd stood stock still instead of letting the grooves get them moving a bit.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Anyone seen Molly around here? How about any of her friends?"
Random Notebook Dump: Openers Haerts put on a lovely opening set, with the band surely making plenty of new fans as they set up the audience well for Washed Out.
It All Feels Right
You And I
Don't Give Up
All I Know
Feel It All Around
Eyes Be Closed
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