Twin Shadow | Elliphant Granada Theater June 24, 2013
When Ellinor Olovsdotter took the stage on Monday night, she looked like anything except her stage name, Elliphant. Opening for Twin Shadow at the Granada, I was skeptical that she'd fulfill her simple role in the event: To move the crowd.
While Olovsdotter was a lithe wire of lean muscle, the dubstep bumping below her lyrics sounded like a pack of large beasts roiling over muddy ground: BOOM splat-splat, BOOM splat-splat, echo effect. Elliphant slid between the sputtering low-end bombs, swiveling her hips in time with her chanted, frenetic raps. Between tracks, Elliphant paced, swigging her Corona too quickly and raising a head of foam in its neck, as if signaling the rise she knew was generating among early crowd awaiting the main act.
After each song, I could hear her probing us in Swedish-accented English, making sure we were feeling the fire she'd started with her performance. But the thundering tracks always washed out her lyrics. All I could tell was that her music was remapping some of the turf that M. I. A., Diplo, and Santigold have already surveyed.
Bringing Elliphant to open for Twin Shadow on this tour is pretty clever though. Her flavor of dance music is a kind of second cousin to hip-hop, separated by dub and reggae. Those genres were built with pieces of the same platform: a DJ with crates of LPs, two turntables and a wickedly powerful sound system, working with an emcee who used a microphone to urge listeners into dancing with witty, rhyming lyrics. So Elliphant put me mind of the 1970s and 1980s when folks from Trenchtown to The Bronx to Brixton were inventing hip-hop and dub and wrecking shop lyrically and musically.
George Lewis Jr. traces his music to this same time period, though he's more interested in creating new routes from new-wave/synth-pop toward a kind of new millenium dance-rock music. When Lewis came on stage last night as Twin Shadow, he and his band (Lewis on guitar, a drummer and two keyboard players, one doubling on bass) poured kerosene on Elliphant's smoldering fire.
Charging through "You Call Me On," "Golden Light," and "Five Seconds" -- the opening tracks from Twin Shadow's excellent 2012 record,Confess
-- the band had the room frenzied and singing along loudly after thirteen minutes. "Golden Light" was especially ferocious; the melody was built on one keyboard's swelling bass notes and another's steel drum-sounding riff above it. The drummer footed the kick-drum and the song became full on march. And after each verse, Lewis' guitar got fuzzier, more jarring, until he finally took a taut, anxious eight bar solo that whipped the audience into the song's closing chant: "I'll follow / I'll follow you."
It's true that Twin Shadow's music could soundtrack '80s movies about angsty teens that haven't been thought of yet. And on Twin Shadow's 2010 debut, Forget, you can hear links to all the apt ancestors -- Blondie; The Police; The Psychedelic Furs; Joy Division; OMD; Human League; Spandau Ballet; and Lewis, who has a warm, gorgeous voice, can even croon a la Morrissey.
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But I think Lewis' most significant but under-acknowledged precursor is Prince Rogers Nelson. When the band played the "Tyrant Destroyed," Forget's lead track, you could hear Prince's "Little Red Corvette" all through Lewis' song structure and chord changes. Lewis' lyric even boasts a Prince-like paradox, the seductive warning:
I know you spent some time from the town the city
Looking for a life to start
And when you were fifteen I know what you said
"I'll never let another black boy break my heart"
Lewis has learned from Prince, especially his earliest albums, how to wrap lyrics about tentative, dangerous, or broken love in urgent, swinging soundscapes. He also shares with Prince an ability to propel a song with masterful guitar work. During all the hardest swinging songs -- like "Slow," "Run My Heart," and "The One" -- below the swelling keyboards and pounding backbeat, Lewis' elliptical riffing delivered the groove like a guiding, golden through line.
The band closed the show with "Shooting Holes," a pumping R&B joint about reckless abandon, and a two-song encore, "I Don't Care" (I don't care / Long as you can dance me round the room while you lie to me) and "When We're Dancing" (Please leave us alone when we're dancing). I'm sure some of us danced all the way home. Twin Shadow's 75 minute set displayed that George Lewis Jr., has filtered all his influences into a sleek personal style free of musical cliché.