The Bomb Factory, Dallas
Friday, May 22, 2015
It’s easy to forget the members of Purity Ring are human (at least, as far as we know). Between valkyrie-winged Megan James’ fey vocals and Corin Roddick’s construction of a cybernetic horde at her back, the guise of reality becomes rapidly suspended.
But four songs into their set at The Bomb Factory on Friday night, in a borderline assaultive wake-up call, James pulled back this distant visage with a shriek directed at the audience. “Dallas!” she (lofti)cried, staring wide-eyed at the crowd of more than 4,000. “This might just be the biggest show we’ve ever played.” By flipping that switch and acknowledging that she is, in fact, a musician performing for an audience, it became clear that every single spectator had been entranced. And the stupor would be difficult not to succumb to, because Purity Ring defend their title as “future-pop” forerunners with ruthless precision.
The Alberta-based electronic duo possesses an uncanny ability to make technology feel utterly alive. James’ vocals might be the only texture that could be labeled “organic,” but every other element of the spectacle engaged the audience and never felt pre-recorded. Granted, there were unavoidably programmed segments of songs, but it was clear that Roddick wasn’t going to settle for being armed with a MacBook for his performance.
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Instead, his setup involved a semi-circle space station surrounded by eight cleaved gemstones that he clanged with drumsticks, releasing crystalline tones and bursts of fluorescence onto the stage. James, on the other hand, operated a mystical device that emitted skyward light-beams in a 180-degree arc. During “Sea Castle,” she used reflective gloves to refract rays into the audience, synchronizing her movements with the piano hits of the song. Watching her manipulate these fragments of luminescence, it started to make sense what James meant when she sang about wanting to “guard [her] precious powers in their cage.”
When she wasn’t warping the fabric of reality itself, James’ vocal performance was a stunning testament to her abilities. Matching up to Roddick’s goliath production could easily turn James into a meek David, but her gossamer delivery style never came at the expense of forgetting she was on stage. When she withdrew for instrumental sections, the void she left was a vacuum, and you could feel her stage presence as she commanded battalions of her own modulated voice.
And that’s saying something, because even the stage itself had a significant presence. During several verses, James wandered listlessly through strobe curtains that decorated it, capturing some post-apocalyptic ennui that we have yet to endure. Above Roddick’s command center there was a silver medallion hanging ominously with a ladder underneath, with no notion as to its purpose.
But then dust hymn happened. In the story arc for Purity Ring’s performance, this was when the duo stormed the bastille, with the stakes breaking threshold. At this climax’s climax, James scaled the ladder and struck the medallion, gong-like, acting as the drummer leading a charge against a mechanized army of bloodthirsty androids. And if that wasn’t tense enough, she ended the song by brandishing one of the dangling strings of lights and flailing it like a lightning whip, taunting these imaginary foes to dare defy her. My advice: Don’t try it.
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Purity Ring’s performance that was so meticulously conceptualized that it was nearly surgical. Excessive planning might sound like a critique when it comes to live music, but what resulted was the most cohesive concert experience I’ve ever witnessed. In fact, witness doesn’t even capture what occurred: I was fully enveloped in James and Roddick’s futuristic world.
Thankfully, we can breathe easy knowing that according to Purity Ring, crowd surfing still exists in the years to come. “begin again” closed out the set, and for its last chorus the intrepid James managed to catapult herself on top of the densely-packed audience as she sang with a near-perfection that reinforced the sense of disbelief that governed the performance. But then again, this night never promised to fall within the realm of the "believable." Who would want a future like that?