Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Better than: Watching hyped headliners deflate without an exciting opener.
The billing of Bleached as headliners over DIIV at the Rickshaw Stop last night was initially confusing. The group boasts three singles released in 2011, while DIIV's debut LP was declared Best New Music by Pitchfork in late June. Yet, after only a few short interactions with audience, it became evident what propelled Bleached into the spotlight despite so little recorded output. The group's likability and natural rapport with the audience reveals the likely source of its success -- only last night, it wasn't enough to hide a lack of material and fledgling songwriting.
The headliner's set began with one cover and ended with another, of the Ramones and Misfits, respectively. In between, the most noteworthy aspect of the meager offering of original material was the frontwoman's saccharine vocal melodies, which were projected with unwavering talent. But perhaps a little less clarity would have masked the predictable and asinine lyrical content: Rehashing subject matter in pop music is inevitable, but more wit or poetry can be expected from a buzzing headliner, considering the vocals' prominence in every song. Otherwise, Bleached showed off the sort of energetic, straight-ahead pop songs that inspire critics to brandish their beach and dream imagery, though ones that were firmly inferior to other recent groups treading similar water in the shallow end of the pool.
Bleached was adept at charming an audience. After the Ramones cover, frontwoman Jennifer Clavin announced, "I got arrested last night so you guys have to go crazy!" Later, she sung "Happy Birthday" a cappella to an embarrassed lead guitarist, going so far as to bring a piece of cake with lit candles on stage and don party hats. It was as if Bleached calculated the steps required to secure credit for unspecified illicit activities as well as cute, thoughtful ones. Beyond the underdeveloped songs and pandering, Bleached sated nothing more than the audience's desire to bob their heads, tap their feet, and perhaps recall a chorus for a moment the next day.
DIIV demonstrated its ability to nestle into a circular groove, add minimal guitar leads over infrequent vocals, douse the entire mix in reverb and delay, and then repeat, ad infinitum. The songs were differentiated by rhythmic flourishes and slight changes to volume and tempo. Such formulaic adherence is evident on the band's debut album, and the Rickshaw Stop's sound system ensured that the performance suffered from the same redundancy. Even during the band's most dynamic tracks, climaxes never emitted exaltation or euphoria, while the repetitive song structures weren't enthralling enough to justify such relentless reiteration. Furthermore, nearly every song's abrupt, uncalculated endings negated whatever hypnotic effect was produced by the plodding.
The performances from Bleached and DIIV both revealed gaping, fundamental flaws in these nascent groups. Many attendees who set out to investigate the two immensely hyped bands seemed to leave the venue perplexed by their shortcomings.
Interestingly, the strengths of Lenz, the local opener, acted as a foil to what the headliners lacked, and easily provided the most compelling set of the evening. Lenz delivered a seamless set of hook-laden, introspective pop that was equal parts cosmic, jangly, and punchy. Frontman Andy Jordan's affected vocals were mixed refreshingly high, allowing the literate lyrics to perplex and entice. Jordan was flanked on either side by two skilled guitarists with knacks for icy leads and tasteful solos, while the drummer employed a pulsating, Krautrock-derived backbeat. Earlier lineups have featured a synthesizer, and the nebulous swirl of dark keys was still present in the rich guitar playing.
What differentiated Lenz most from Bleached and DIIV were the song structures. Bridges, intros, pre-choruses, climaxes, instrumental breaks with intertwining guitar leads -- Lenz demonstrated rock 'n' roll with structural finesse. A single part of a song was seemingly weighed, with the rest of the track carefully built around it. All of the while, a delicate balance and symmetry were maintained while stretching each song to the brink of complexity in pop.