Monday, February 20th
The Sunset Tavern
Sometimes when you hear a new act you want to ingest as much information>"/>
Monday, February 20th
The Sunset Tavern
Sometimes when you hear a new act you want to ingest as much information about them as possible. Sometimes you want to hold off, to maintain a little mystery for a moment or two before the hype cycle really starts to churn. I'd first heard Grimes via Simon Reynolds sometime last summer, but beyond her music and a video or two, I tried to know as little about the artist (born Claire Boucher) as I could before last night's show, since I think we'll be hearing about her a lot this year. Of course, a few tweets and headlines will always make it through. So I got it when some dude shouted, "How was the Mississippi River?" And I also got it when Grimes replied, "Don't believe...don't read everything." (Do read the rest of this, though.)
The joy of catching an artist on their way up isn't just that you're discovering them, of course, it's that they're simultaneously figuring out themselves--sometimes right there on stage. So if her sold-out set at the Sunset last night--her headlining debut in Seattle, following opening slots with Austra and Lykke Li--got off to a slow start and was marred by a couple technical hiccups, it also meant you got to watch Grimes find her footing then really hit her stride.
The show started with Boucher walking out onstage, looking less intimidatingly alien than in her promo photos--no angular hair or outfits, just sort of ratted long red hair, a jean jacket, and long sleeves attached to what turned out to be a witchy floor-length hooded robe. "Hi, I'm Grimes," she said, nervously laughing. "Okay, I'm just gonna start. This first song should be loud, it's like my intro song..."
Only it wasn't loud. At all. It was, in fact, deadly quiet. Boucher spent a moment with a loose microphone clutched between her shoulder and neck like a telephone while she used both hands to fiddle with some vocal samples, the audience not sure to clap during a series of silences. After a few minutes, tour-mates Born Gold joined her (introduced by their previous band name Gobble Gobble): three dudes in sheer robes and boas, on one station with a laptop, one with keys, and one with a drum pad. They played one song that was basically just a bass groove with Boucher singing a bit towards the back.
They played the opening piano chords of early single "Vanessa," and Boucher rightly requested, "everything should be louder; she started singing then interrupted herself to reiterate, "it's really quiet--I can hear people talk." A second later she dropped the mic and apologized. Slowly, though, the song got dialed up to a decent volume, and as Boucher hit the refrain of "every day," she and the band started looking confident and animated.
They kept it up as they segued into the creepy/sweet stalker "Oblivion," with Boucher dancing, gesturing, and emoting in tune with the track's bubbling, popping synth bassline, using separate mics to sing the song's elfin lead and its displaced girl group "la la la" backing vocals. (This song must be tied with "Genesis" for strongest track on Visions, on which they form an opening one-two punch.) They played "Circumambient," with its ravey synth stabs and back-masked vocals, and (I think) they played "Vowels = space and time," with its ghostly R&B melismas. They did "Genesis," Boucher upbeat, doing a skippy little dance move at one point, the songs unraveling into another odd vocal stutter that left you unsure where to clap. There was a peal of microphone feedback here, a pause to dial up a piano patch there, the aforementioned river-related heckle, but things were smooth now. And when Grimes' songs are running smoothly, confidently, they are some dazzling displays.
She ended the next song abruptly and left the stage with an equally understated "Bye, I'm Grimes" over some lingering vocal loops, before returning for a solo encore. That solo song was maybe more rickety and uneven than the ones she performed with the band, with her looping sometimes dead-ending at an odd second of silence, but it was also more enlivening. At one point, her vocals low in the mix, she let out one declarative "ah!" just as those vocals swelled up and the beat dropped and she was able to jump around and let those loops do their work for a moment before crouching back down to manipulate her instruments. With the band, there's fewer odd drop-outs, but there's also fewer moments when everything thrillingly, as if by chance, falls into place.
The other great thing about the show was seeing Grimes in that (hopefully long) phase of her (hopefully long) career when she still appears to be absolutely in love with making all this happen. It meant that when those gauzy layers of vocal looping synched up and a beat dropped, you could see a smile flashing as she bounced around the stage.