With Lewis Del Mar and Beau
Granada Theater, Dallas
Monday, June 6, 2016
You might never guess, from the way Børns took the stage Monday night at his sold-out show at Granada Theater, that he's new to the fame game. Only a year and change has intervened since he was catapulted to fame by favorable endorsements from Taylor Swift, who called his “Electric Love” an “instant classic” on Instagram. You also might be surprised to learn that Børns’ first album came only a little more than a half of a year ago.
You might even imagine, as I did, that he was born in that jean vest with nothing underneath it, and that the receipt of flowers and banners bearing his name at the edge of a concert stage was all he’d ever known. Such was the fervor with which the Michigan singer was greeted in Dallas last night, and the confidence with which he embraced it.
Børns’ latest record is Dopamine, named for the pleasure-producing neurotransmitter. Dopamine is produced under any number of circumstances, but it seems like you’re mostly likely to hear about it in a reference to the effects of hard drugs, sex or those food products like potato chips which are especially calibrated for their addictive qualities. Perhaps surprisingly for a major rock act, Børns’ brand of dopamine is probably closest to that of the chips. (“She's sweet like candy in my veins,” sings Børns in “Electric Love,” “Baby, I'm dying for another taste.”)
For one, his music has a slight whiff of the vacuum packed and the hermetically sealed: the hard edges of the psych-rock which informs his sound are polished away, leaving a nouveau-'80s dance pop sheen in its place. You also get the sense that there’s a lot of corporate muscle here behind something as simple as a potato and some salt — er, a boy and his guitar. And yet you also finally find — like candy, like chips – that, despite the simplicity of the ingredients, Børns is fundamentally irresistible.
It’s easy enough to find fault with the slickness of the Børns package, to scoff at the relative youth of the crowd (I’d put the average at a scientific-sounding 17.5). And indeed, there was an odd school dance-type dynamic that manifested itself every once in a while. Once Børns had taken the stage, he contributed to the night’s prom-like air by introducing American Money with, “this one goes out to all the singles out there” — he might well have introduced “Clouds,” the evening’s one ballad number, as the slow dance.
And yet, and yet. The thing is, Børns can sing. His dialed-in falsetto seemed to cleave the din in a room, pushing his backing band’s instruments out to the edges of their frequency ranges. Not only could you hear every word Børns enunciated clearly, but you could hear your own words, as well – it was like his voice left a wake of undisturbed air as it cut through the turbulence of the hall. This also meant it was particularly easy to hear the audience singing along. Or try to, anyway — often the audience’s collective croon seemed to fall away from Børns’ stratospheric voice like water cascading off the snout of a surfacing whale.
Still, Børns hasn't quite hardened into his mold. This fact was occasionally endearing, such as when he accidentally put his mic out to the audience when there were no words for them to sing. This error didn’t amount to an error at all, really, because it not only humanized the idol a little bit, but also highlighted the audience’s leniency towards him. This audience was overwhelmingly supportive and engaged; that’s not always a given.
Other times, however, were more bewildering than endearing. The black metal slash through the “o” in his name, for instance, only seems to call attention to the fact that he emphatically lacks any real edge. If it were more overtly ironic, it might be funny, but instead it just calls attention to the Disneyfied nature of his psych-influenced sound. But these kinks are to be expected in an act which was magnified so quickly to the national scale. Dopamine is the most intense pleasure chemical, but it’s also the shortest acting; it will be interesting to see whether or not that aspect of the word applies to Børns as well.