Blood Orange, the alias of Devonté Hynes, came out looking like he had just arrived at the venue, carrying his guitar and a backpack with a laptop and a pedal in it. Without saying a word he quickly set up, started the beats on his laptop, and grabbed his guitar. His performance reminded me of a lot of things, but mostly throwback R&B and soul. Hynes crooned over new wave beats while managing to sound like a bedroom project cross between Jimi Hendrix and Prince. Prince because of his singing style, and Hendrix because between his Prince-sounding vocals Hynes ripped up and down the neck of his guitar with some serious blues licks. He would start clean on his riffs, but then suddenly hit the pedal for max reverb on some impressive solos. Add in some sporadic claps, New Edition dance moves across the stage, and a little Stevie Wonder influence for good measure, and you have Blood Orange.
Next up was Grimes, the project of Montreal-based artist Claire Boucher. On this night She had a drummer, making Grimes a two-piece of synth/vocals and a minimal set up of a floor tom and snare. Boucher had Daria boots and a very cute and likable demeanor. She kept commenting on how she hadn’t performed in a while and was trying to remember the songs, but I couldn’t discern any mistakes. I could see how she could completely carry the show herself, layering her own vocals over electronic beats and harmonizing with herself. She sang mostly in a shallow sounding baby voice, but at times proved that she could really sing. The lyrics were almost entirely unintelligible, but it’s the classical melody over the drum machine affect that matters more in Grimes compositions. When she wasn’t singing into the mic, instead of placing it back on the stand she tucked it between her neck and should, making her look like a DJ listening to one side of her headphones. I’m actually not sure how much the drummer really added to the songs. Usually I much prefer a live drummer over programmed drum beats, but since his set up was so minimal he ended up blending in more with the beats already programmed then elevating the experience. Still, it was one more thing to watch.
Last thing to watch for the night: Washed Out. Here we go…four synths, bass guitar, full drum set, and laptop were all strategically placed on stage, which was an obvious sign that although Washed Out is the moniker of Atlanta-based Ernest Greene, this was to be a full band spectacle. All set with a big projection screen behind the stage and a smaller one angled at the top front, the whole band came out and immediately got into it with “Hold Out.” The crowd didn’t hold out with dancing with hands in the air, and Greene & co. fed off all of it.
Washed Out has been labeled as chillwave, a label which has already been debated on how useful or accurate it actually is, but judging from the live show I saw it’s barely accurate in this case. At this show, if you wanted to chill out, you had best head towards the back of the room and let the people who wanted to dance have their time. Greene duly encouraged clapping, jumping, and dancing with leading by example. He wanted to make sure everyone was into it and having a great time. “Come on guys!” he yelled several times, motioning for people to get up and move and clap. There were certainly more chilled out moments in comparison, but overall this was a dance party.
In this aspect, Washed Out brought Caribou to my mind. I don’t necessarily feel the urge to jump up and dance to his records, but the last time I saw him live his show had suddenly become more like a rave. No joke – people actually brought glow sticks (and this was last year). In Caribou’s case, I think I prefer to leave the glow sticks out of it, but with Washed Out, this new perspective is exactly how a live show should be compared to recorded material. It was fun and memorable, in a way that will make me think about his album differently because I will always think of this show and what Greene is capable of. That and the saxophonist that came out for a couple songs - I don't know who that was, but his part was very necessary.
Washed Out has a lengthy tour schedule left, heading over to Europe where he is booked until Mid-September when he comes back to the states to tour more through the first week of October. This show seems to be a one-off for both Grimes and Blood Orange, but they will play another show together August 20 at MoMA PS1. Grimes has several releases on Arbutus to check out, and more of Blood Orange’s music can be found on his Soundcloud.