June 1, 2011
@ The Independent
Better than: Your actual prom, including the hotel room afterparty
Picture a prom night in the early 1990s, in a glittering hall with a live band that plays soulful, heart-thumping music, cajoling the entirety of the room into wanting some loving.
With Gayngs, an indie supergroup from Minneapolis, that lustful concept isn't so far-fetched. The band -- which includes Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, members of Megafaun, Doomtree, Solid Gold, and occasionally Har Mar Superstar -- makes ample use of the tenor saxophone; dubbed its first concert back in 2010 "The Last Prom on Earth"; and has the most seductive stage presence I've seen. These folks would do well in any Ecstasy-soaked banquet hall affair.
And yet, the massive revolving-door collective (sometimes with 25 members, last night a group of 10) is currently on tour through traditional rock venues, making a stop last night in San Francisco to sprinkle some smooth '80s-adult-contemporary-meets-'90s-R&B pixie dust on the Independent's eager crowd.
But before Gayngs brought us back to an earlier, simpler time of adult rock, White Hinterland opened the show with the music of the future. Barefoot and diminutive, vocalist Casey Dienel looked meek for the brief moment before she opened her mouth and let out a strong, heavenly sound, instantly looped and harmonized, which echoed over heavy-breathing beats. Her high octaves could battle Mariah Carey, and she somehow covered Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" without any cheese. Instead, she made the bubblegum pop haunting.
After a brief interlude, the lights went dark and the familiar strains of the Law and Order theme song suddenly trailed from the speakers, while Gayngs members, including group creator/constant Ryan Olson, scrambled quietly onstage.
The group stood dressed in variations of fresh cream casualwear, suit jackets, caps, boat pants, sunglasses, and black cutoff tops adorned with the Gayngs symbol. They threw up the "Gayngs" sign, which is your middle fingers pointed toward each other.
The band opened with the first song off Relayted, "The Gaudy Side of Town," then moved seamlessly to second track "The Walker," with its creeping gunshot-blast drum hit.
The killer voices in the crew took turns at center stage, with Har Mar Superstar making one of the most memorable turns out front. For his spotlight song (a cover of George Michael's "One More Try"), he wore a dashing white cape and got a huge crowd response with appreciative hoots and hollers. You'd never have guessed this was the group's first San Francisco show. It was totally sold out and packed to the brim, a sea of waving bodies.
Another crowd pleaser: the cover of Godley & Creme's 1985 hit "Cry."
Whenever the band moved to a slower-paced jam, the saxophone kicked in; then the members instinctively brought the energy back up with a danceable love song. Could this all be some sort of joke played by talented, cool-kid musicians, as some other media outlets have suggested? Perhaps, but why put so much effort into getting it so perfectly right?
They ended, naturally, with "The Last Prom on Earth."
Personal bias: Har Mar Superstar is an old favorite; I'd travel to the edge of the earth to hear that man sing.
Local notes: They told the crowd to drink at Homestead after
the show, no word if they'd be there, too. But Ryan Olson was spotted at nearby Jay's Cheesesteak.
By the way: You too can throw the Gayngs sign. Check out this handy video.