damonnaomi.jpg
Damon, Naomi, and a man with a tiny saxophone.
Damon and Naomi, Amor de Dias

The Tractor

Tuesday, May 31

If it works, don't change

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Damon and Naomi Prove Godparents of Dream Pop Still Rock, Last Night at The Tractor

damonnaomi.jpg
Damon, Naomi, and a man with a tiny saxophone.
Damon and Naomi, Amor de Dias

The Tractor

Tuesday, May 31

If it works, don't change it. That's the strategy Damon and Naomi of Galaxie 500 have employed in their career, which has spanned eight albums and more than 20 years. Fortunately, their standard fare of melancholy, well-constructed pop meditations still sounds fresh and relevant, even prescient.

The Tractor starts shows blessedly early during the week, so second openers Amor de Dias set up at nine. Alistair MacLean (of the popular British indie-pop band The Clientele) and Lupe Núñez-Fernández took the stage carrying classical guitars, using them, Rodrigo y Gabriela style, to create layered melodies that would not sound out of place in a courtyard cafe. Accompanied by cello, alternately plucked and bowed, Núñez-Fernández whisper-sang in Spanish, her breathy vocals reminiscent of Isobel Campbell's or Astrud Gilberto's. MacLean's latest batch of songs treats mainly the seasons and nature, in an attempt at Nick Drake-style transcendence. His voice is lovely, in the vein of old-school British songwriters like Richard Thompson, but the songs, as laid out in a recent Pitchfork review, aren't very compelling. It's the perfect soundtrack for a nursery or dentist's office.

Damon and Naomi's recent album, False Beats and True Hearts, is another story. As they began their set with "How Do I Say Goodbye," dedicating it to departed Sub Pop employee Andy Kotowicz, it was clear their latest release taps new energy. Accompanied by saxophonist Bhob Rainey, the stage setup was simply guitar and keyboard, with no rhythm section in sight. After the third song, it transpired that Naomi Yang was suffering from laryngitis. But she soldiered on, and despite a nearly nonexistent speaking voice, her bell-like singing sounded hardly different from its peak form.

Dipping into their back catalogue, they played a few songs from their past albums, such as the hit "Turn of the Century." But they primarily stuck to their latest release, which sounded great, with ringing acoustic guitar backed by moody synths. And Rainey's saxophone playing can be recommended to anyone who's lately enjoyed Destroyer's Kaputt. Damon Krukowski is a charming frontman, extremely well-versed in the world and engaged with his surroundings, as when he asked the audience whether it was true that John Cage and Merce Cunningham met outside of Cornish "by the Whole Foods." These little interludes were a welcome breather, as it was easy to be lulled into a trance during the long, slow songs. (Was that someone sleeping at the bar? No, they were just on their phone.)

As their set progressed, they invited Amor de Dias' MacLean onstage to play electric guitar, and were later joined by Chris Martin of Kinski. Krukowski explained that their usual guitarist, Michio Kurihara of Japanese band Ghost, had his passport stolen and couldn't travel, so they have been inviting friends to play with them in different cities. The rotating lineup added a refreshing spirit of collaboration and openness to change. They concluded their set with a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Shine a Light," with Krukowski commenting that while people assume they must only listen to sad music, really they play Exile on Main St. over and over. While it was a slowed-down, Damon-and-Naomi spin on the song, the energy and delivery proved these godparents of dream pop still rock.

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