Son Lux isn't an Indie band. Son Lux isn't the post-rock band that critics label them to be. Son Lux isn't trying to follow in any one set of footsteps. Son Lux is simply Son Lux and they're as different as they come. With a sound that never stays close enough to one genre for long, Son Lux is truly pushing what a band should sound like in 2016. What started as a one-man passion project in 2008, has now grown into a three-piece band that's focused on pushing sonic boundaries. When I recently interviewed Son Lux's guitarist Rafiq Bhatia, he described Son Lux's sound as a "Gangsta-ass beat with a choir boy melody," and after witnessing the group firsthand last night, the description couldn't be more accurate.
Before the show I was able to get some questions answered by the band's awesome guitarist Rafiq Bhatia. For those that don't know, in 2014 Son Lux seamlessly transitioned from a one-man act to a three piece band. When asked about the transition Rafiq said it's been "Natural, but fast-paced. We sort of dove into it - what was supposed to be a couple months of touring quickly became two years of near-constant activity. We've played around 300 shows in that time; written, produced, and released a record together; and much more. So even though we're technically a new band, it feels like we've already been through a lot together." Rafiq also spoke about how the band feels that "[our] need to create approaches the strength of our need to breathe. But like breathing, it's also sort of happening in the background."
When asked about who the band fanboys over, Rafiq gave an intriguing list of people that just like Son Lux's sound, are from seemingly different worlds. Rafiq listed Mahalia Jackson, Francis Mallman, Richard Serra, Aziz Ansari, Bjork, and none other than President Barack Obama as the band's shared inspirations. I, of course, had to ask Rafiq about the band's post-rock label and he responded with "We've always thought that was a strange label for our music; the kind of thing a critic says offhand one day and, before you know it, it sticks. It seems that these labels are usually less descriptive of the music itself and more a proxy for the ideas/aesthetics of a given community."
Rafiq's responses were the perfect warm up for a show in which I had no idea what to expect. When I arrived at National Sawdust's front door around 9, there were a handful of people milling around in the lobby. Initially, I thought that the room wouldn't be packed, but as the clocked neared showtime, the crowd increased. However, there was still a noticeable amount of space in the venue.
The show's opener People Get Ready played an upbeat set that consisted of a mix of old and new/unheard numbers. The Brooklyn-based band consists of Stever Reker, Jen Goma, James Rickman, and Ian Chang (also the drummer for Son Lux). People Get Ready served up funky atmospheric tunes that were the ideal opening act for a band such as Son Lux. The band's usage of keyboards such as the Mellotron M400D (I know my nerdy audiophiles are out there somewhere) and pedals created an intricate usage of sound that kept the audience moving throughout their performance. While the band didn't talk much, they did take out the time to thank the audience and the audio engineer for the night. Overall, I was impressed with People Get Ready's stage presence and tight-knit performance of dense songs.
Between sets the house DJ played songs such as Kendrick Lamar's breath-taking "Rigamortus," Mura Masa's album opener "Are U There," and less mainstream cuts such as Body Language's "Reset" and Made of Oak's "Pinebender." By the time the house DJ began playing, both National Sawdust's lower level and balcony were packed. Hipsters from all walks of life filled the room and I engaged in a discussion with a few men who also attended the show by themselves. The general consensus among them was that Ryan Lott is bringing something exciting to music that very few other acts have the ability to do. The cliched mindset of people not understanding the value of "real music" was also present during the conversation, but hey, it is what it is.
The performance began with a dimming of the lights and a bass warble that sustained for just over a minute. The crowd hushed until Ryan Lott, Ian Chang, and Rafiq Bhatia approached the stage. The entire room cheered while the band seemed unfazed by the outpour of love from the (estimated) 300 plus people in the room. The band opened with "Change Is Everything" and the crowd couldn't have been more excited. Although both Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia were killing it on their respective instruments, all eyes were on frontman Ryan Lott. His shifts between falsetto and low tenor were seamless and just as accurate as what you'll hear on record.
Immediately after the performance of "Change Is Everything," a man said to his girlfriend "this dude is even more rad live." The accuracy of that statement knows no bounds. Throughout the set Ryan Lott commanded control with his masterful usage of the DAW Digital Performer, an 88 key MIDI keyboard, and an Akai LPD8. Instead of simply recreating the songs from the albums, the band introduced new sounds and essentially remixed every song.
Live versions of fan favorite songs such as "Easy" sounded like brand new compositions. When the band played "Easy" the crowd of course lost it. Instead of simply following the recorded version, Rafiq setup the easily recognizable guitar groove while Ian Chang played drum fills that hit off beats I wasn't even aware existed within the song until last night. Ryan played the brass stabs, and with the groove setup, this allowed for Rafiq's talents to shine fully as he played with the loop and performed short solos that added a new level of dynamism to an already epic track. After "Easy" the band went into "Ransom" which is another favorite from Lanterns. During "Ransom" Ian Chang was once again set free to let loose on the drums. When Ian lets go it adds another layer to the band's energy since he's able to play wild yet still be technically proficient and rhythmically lead the band.
Later in the set the band performed more songs off of Bones such as "You Don't Know Me". During this song the entire band got to show their skill set with Ian playing the main groove and Rafiq adding much-needed embellishments to the minimal cut. During this song Ryan began to let loose by jumping around and playing his cowbell (cue Will Ferrel's "more cowbell").
To the end the show Ryan told the audience "we're not gonna do the thing where we pretend to leave and then come back for an encore." This got the crowd going while the band played their last batch of tracks. The second to last track that the band performed was "Stay". The recorded version is melancholy, to say the least but it's now a live staple since the band plays an improvised version of it every night. Last night's version of "Stay" began as a melancholy piece but branched out into drum, guitar, and keyboard solos and managed not to overstay it's welcome. Before the band played their last song, Ryan talked about how privileged he is to be able to make a living by creating music.
The band ended with none other than head-bop worthy (and one of my favorites), "Lost It To Trying". The band was able to remix "Lost It To Trying" by introducing a new synth loop that served as the harmonic backbone. At first, the audience didn't know what to expect when Ryan played this new loop, but once he introduced the familiar high-pitched synth, we were ready. Ryan left his keyboard stand and jumped around onstage as the crowd reciprocated his energy. During this last song, it was nearly impossible to take photos. This was truly a shared moment that I simply wanted to experience.
After the show, Ryan Lott interacted with fans and I even got to tell him how inspiring his music has been to me. He seemed deeply honored to be able to interact with each fan and gave everyone his undivided attention.
Overall, last night was Gwen Stefani bananas. Son Lux was not only able to recreate the magic found on their latest record Bones, but they were able to craft new sounds from old records as well. Son Lux's guitarist Rafiq Bhatia described Son Lux shows as being "We often find that first-time concert attendees are pleasantly surprised by how much of the music is being made by human beings with instruments in real time, and how often the arrangements depart from the versions they've heard on the records." Rafiq's summation of the band's live energy ability to effortlessly tweak tunes, both old and new, held true and the band is a must see live.
Son Lux is releasing their new EP Stranger Forms on June 17th which will feature fully remixed versions of songs from Bones. When asking Rafiq about the future of the band he told me that "we're planning to turn our attention to making new music. Ian and I are both working on solo material, and we're also going to be spending a lot of time on developing a new body of work together. Look out for more soon!"
[Live photos by Jacob Swindell-Sakoor]