Photos by Benjamin Lozovsky @ BV
When you see lo-fi synth/electronic artists live, you know the experience will be different than the recordings you've grown to love. The real question is whether this will be a disappointment or a happy surprise.
Thankfully the recent Pictureplane, Small Black and Washed Out show at The Mercury Lounge avoided the former. It seemed a somewhat motley bill: glitchy dance, a bedroom-synth band and electropop producer. Yet much like their music, there was a sincerity to the evening that resonated more than any drum machine.
At 8:30pm on a Monday, Pictureplane (aka Travis Egedy) was tasked with livening a small and noticeably sober crowd with his brand of psych-rock. I scanned the scene then braced for impact. Blasting a group of stiff early-attendees with repurposed house music is one thing, getting them to like it is another. But Egedy understood that half the battle in a live show is owning your sound.
He didn't resort to the gimmicks of most 1-man electro sets -- all clothes remained on, all audience members remained offstage. His rave-punk stylings and positive energy carried the set. At one point he asked, "do you guys like Twilight? This one is kind of like that except in space. Teen vampires in space!" I don't like Twilight, I don't like house music and generally don't dig DJ culture but thanks to Pictureplane: I love the shit out of teen vampires in space. Unsurprisingly, the set ended with a packed and smiling room.
Next was the band I came to see: Small Black. I was a few months late to the bandwagon a (now) ex gave me their EP back in January. I recall getting through about 30 seconds of "Despicable Dogs" before deeming it our make out album of 2010. Ironically, the very same EP was the sonic opiate that nursed me through our break up. A testament to the moody versatility of their sound, I suppose. Like a wool sweater: warm, enveloping but coarse enough to keep you from getting too comfortable.
Just weeks before, the ex in question had seen Small Black live and deemed the full-band performance a disappointment (Josh Kolenik and Ryan Heyner joined by Jeff Curtin and Juan Pieczanski). But when they took the stage at the Mercury Lounge, the relationship differences had never been so clear. Small Black was anything but disappointing. In fact, they had achieved the difficult feat of creating two independently moving experiences of the same material. "Lady In The Wires," the EP's chilling and austere closing track, for example, gained a compelling new momentum with Curtin's drumming. Understandably, vocalist Josh Kolenik told the audience, "this is my favorite song to sing live."
In truth, no one would've been shocked to see a crew of listless Brooklyn kids hunched over synths banging out sleepy melodies. But clearly Small Black relishes the energy of the live show (even if it means Pieczansky's bass moves occasionally seem better fit for the Warped Tour). A small price to pay for an infectious reimagination. So infectious that the crowd demanded an encore, a response lost on the night's headliner!
Washed Out's set did lack the same kind of fervor, but delivered on ethereal hits like "Belong" and "Feel It All Around." By this point in the evening the room was packed and in perpetual sway. Washed Out (aka Ernest Greene) performed virtually in the dark, backlit only by a ring of fluorescent lights. Whether it was the low lighting, mellow pace or the communal Stella-buzz, Greene's set began to lose steam. I went to catch up with Alan Palomo (Neon Indian, Vega) at the bar when we heard a familiar hum from the stage. We rushed back in to find that Greene had invited Small Black onstage to perform an epic version of their remix of "You'll See It." Afterwards, Greene and Small Black switched roles closing out the night playing Washed Out's remix of their single "Despicable Dogs."
I left the show without hearing one song that sounded the same as its studio version. Each artist a bit louder, a bit grittier, a bit more exposed especially in the case of Small Black's full-band outfit -- and I loved each new incarnation. In the end, I couldn't help but think once more about the poor ex who couldn't see beyond the EP. Monday's show proved: there are those that expect only to experience what's perfect and those of us that find perfection in the experience. -Jessica Amason
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Pictureplane on Myspace
Washed Out on Myspace
Small Black on Myspace