Neon Indian, Com Truise
September 25, 2011
Better than: a heat wave.
Com Truise and Neon Indian each took the stage of the Granada Theater Saturday night as a pair of the flag-bearers championing the genre of chillwave. What amounted to a state of the union address of chillwave eventually played out in front of the packed house.
Com Truise got the night started and served as the model, an example of all of the elements that have helped to shape the public's view of chillwave: minimal on-stage personnel, sample- and synthesizer-based songs, a lack of vocals (although many acts in this mode of music do indeed employ lyricis, however minimized) and a focus on danceable pop music. Com Truise (nee Seth Haley) occupied the stage front and center, perched behind a sampler and drum machine station.
But the real delight in seeing Com Truise's sample-triggering and knob-twisting came in the form of his accompanying on-stage drummer. The presence of the live drums added a punch that is absent when listening to his recorded music, and the audible mistakes and slight offbeat drum hits actually added an organic element to the affair that took a somewhat cold and twitchy (but still dance-inspiring) kind of music into a warmer, more visceral place.
While the room was wholly satisfied with the dance food that Com Truise served up, the opening set seemed to also set the stage for musical points that Neon Indian frontman Alan Palomo has been trying to make ever since his band has been pegged as one of chillwave's poster children.
In numerous interviews, Palomo seems to shrug off the chillwave moniker, and, along with the band's 2011 LP, Era Extraña, their set seemed to be the latest and boldest statement of a band trying to live outside any circles drawn around them by way of pegging genres.
First off, Neon Indian boasted a robust five-piece lineup that included live drums, keyboards and guitar. The low end was also punchier than expected, making the bass far more prominent than it sounds on Era Extraña. Just as in Com Truise's set, this was a definite welcome shift to a more rounded sound in person. But Palomo's vocals seemed almost lost in this arrangement, a curious choice since it is his digitized singing that's responsible for so much of the band's dreamy aesthetic.
Perhaps this was a conscious decision on Palomo's part, a desire to place the focus on the extra pieces that weren't present on the recordings. Or maybe Palomo prefers to deflect the attention away from himself and onto his on-stage mates. That theory is hard to accept as he offers up herky-jerky dance moves on the mic that look like he dreamed them up after watching House Party or the video for Bobby Brown's "Every Little Step." Either way, Neon Indian's stage presence was huge, the arrangements were heavy and the sound was something far more intense than the "traditional" minimalism of the chillwave camp.
How else was the notion of chiilwave turned on its head? Crowd-surfing, interestingly enough. Early in the set, a rambunctious -- if a bit misguided -- reveler opted to surf and was surprisingly held aloft for a spell during "Mind, Drips."
The rumbling dance groove stayed at a high energy bounce throughout, a success to an aesthetic of synthy dream pop that Palomo has been refining and perfecting for himself over the past few years. "Future Sick," "6669," "Deadbeat Summer" and "Psychic Chasms" nailed this aesthetic perfectly, each sounding near perfect on the Granada's sound system. Despite the additional players, Neon Indian sounded well-fused and extremely tight -- a very evolved brand of music, indeed. And while the last time they played at the Granada they were accompanied by visuals on the large screens on either side of the stage, Saturday's performance axed that part of the set -- another sign in the rising confidence that this band is building with their sound and live show.
Era Extraña and the Neon Indian live act on this current tour seem to be Alan Palomo's direct answer to the critics who want to draw a line around his band and other somehow affiliated acts such as Toro y Moi and Washed Out. Neon Indian seems to go against the grain of what chillwave is out of Palomo's desire to roll in his own lane.
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Personal Bias: I had to break my rule about even referring to chillwave in this article, but I hope you can understand why.
By The Way: Peep the House Party dance-off scene and the video for "Every Little Step" and tell me that Palomo doesn't get at least some of his dancing inspiration from these 1990s-era boogies.
1) Terminally Chill
2) Polish Girl
3) Hex Girlfriend
4) Mind, Drips
5) Future Sick
6) 6669 (I don't know if you know)
8) Psychic Chasms
9) Deadbeat Summer
10) Ephemeral Artery
11) Heart : Decay
12) Should have taken acid with you