Show Review – Washed Out, Small Black, Pictureplane @ the Majestic Café, Detroit

April 6th, 2010

The last time I was at the Majestic was to see Cut Copy play at the Magic Stick two years ago. It’s fitting that I returned to see a triple bill of the current incarnation of indie retro/disco. Focusing on samplers as the primary instruments, the genre which has come to be known as “chillwave” was in my opinion championed by two artists last summer, Neon Indian and Washed Out. Since I missed Neon Indian at the Stick last year I wasn’t going to let myself skip out on the slightly more underground Washed Out, a one man project of Ernest Greene.

To be honest, after hearing Washed Out last year I couldn’t imagine a live show taking shape. The recordings are heavily crafted and treated to take on an intentional lo-fi sound (as are pretty much all chillwave projects) and to simply re-produce this live wouldn’t be a very exciting act; typically most bands of similar style have a different, brighter live sound (Neon Indian, for example), but the key word here is ‘bands’ – from what I’d read, Ernest is not really a musician and his project came forth from his skills as a sound library technician (I might be wrong; I could have easily just asked him for clarification on this). But as it goes, his two albums from last year – both of which sold out of their very limited runs on vinyl (Life of Leisure EP) and cassette (High Times) only (yes, cassette only…), became incredibly popular and as I’d imagine, avoiding live performance when you cause as much of a buzz as he did through word of mouth (and blog) alone would be incredibly tough. The second act of the night, Small Black, apparently approached Ernest about ‘showing him the ropes’ of live performance, and that is how this tour came about.

The first act, Pictureplane, is to me an oddball revival of the over-the-top rave scene music of England circa 1992. I think that’s a great thing. Also a one man act, Travis Egedy has been around for a few years and his first full-strength recording effort materialized in last year’s Dark Rift; his set consisted almost entirely of tracks from this record. Very experimental mashed up dance music; shiny but jittery, like “bad drugs” as a friend accurately put it. The crowd was having a blast and Travis was surrounded by a ring of constant dancers.

Small Black came up next. I’d never actually heard them but I knew of them as another chillwave band; they really impressed me and I was happy to first handedly discover a new great band. As of right now they only have a short but sweet EP out but they informed me that they have a full length in the works to be released on Jagjaguwar.

Favorite track was/is “Weird Machines”. Very talented guys from New York that successfully employ the great idea of having a live drummer in an electronic band.

Washed Out came out like a guy at a talent show, opening his set by proclaiming “I’m Washed Out!! I’m gonna do a few songs by myself and then the guys from Small Black are gonna come help me out!!” Innocent jubilance aside, the music was very hype- everyone had a blast dancing to the tunes coming out of Ernest’s sample box. As mentioned earler, the live sound predictably translated to a brighter/crispier aesthetic. To be honest and fair though, Ernest’s vocals as of that show still had a ways to go – understandably, it’s tough to go from a home studio environment in which you have infinite takes/post processes to get your voice in key to a live environment in which it’s just your pipes and the mic. As he bashfully said after every other song, “thanks!! …I’m still kinda figuring that one out.” He has definitely figured out a lot since taking the leap to live shows but I truly hope he tightens things up before he plays large festivals and Europe later this summer/fall. Now that constructive criticism is out of the way I can sum up Washed Out’s set as a total blast for everyone involved.

Best part of the night? Bowling next door with the bands after the show.

-JDH

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