Chairlift, Nite Jewel, and Bell Crescent Ballroom Saturday, April 14
Watching the trio of on-the-rise bands at Crescent, I saw three very different approaches to both stage presence and synth-driven pop.
Headliners Chairlift struck a very entertaining balance between Frou Frou melody and Cocteau Twins-style haze.
Their charming, shadowy pop songs were encased in lush austerity, even as singer Caroline Polachek twirled around the stage and clicked castanets with ease (she even dedicated two songs to a gaggle of teens who ditched their prom to attend the show).
The only real disappointment was when they played their breakout hit, "Bruises." They decided to skip the verse where the dude sings about frozen strawberries and instead briefly segued into Modern English's "I Melt With You." Cute, but seriously, you guys, I really like the frozen strawberry part the best.
Ramona Gonzalez of Nite Jewel was non-committal, never quite opting for upfront energy nor Kate Bush ethereality. The tracks sounded much better than on her records, backed with a tight rhythm section of live bass and acoustic/triggered drum set, but her singing fell short. During "One Second of Love," she attempted some awkward pop star moves that belied the understated vocals.
Her performance basically accumulated into something that looked like someone doing an impression of an impassioned singer. She clicked on an octave harmonizer to add artificial back-up vocals to her choruses, which still failed to reach the excitement I found missing from her recordings. During one of the few high-tempo numbers, Gonlalez killed the vibe with a meandering, hollow X-Files synth solo. After playing one subdued (read: pretty dull) slow jam, she quipped, "It's feeling kinda sexy in here," baiting cheers from the already-drunks.
Surprisingly the hell out of me was opener Bell, a.k.a. Olga Bell of Brooklyn, who paired a versatile voice with technical proficiency. "I was feeling sick yesterday, but I'm much better today because Phoenix is awesome," she said. Despite her occasional bits of Nyquil-talk, her voice was totally unaffected, veering effortlessly from low-throated breathiness to huge belts of melody. At times she sounded like a Miami bass Feist remix with cracking snares, all while manipulating synth, beat machines and a keytar. One particularly sparkling piano roll earned cheers from the audience.
During her excellent finale, a shameless high-tempo club banger, there was a respite from the fury after the first verse that paired her vocals with nothing but a soft keyboard swell. "The alarm goes off / it's the radio," she cooed tenderly, her hand on her chest, smiling huge. Some bands are premised by playing it cool, but most reach by showing all of their cards.
Last Night: Chairlift, Nite Jewel and Bell at Crescent Ballroom
Rock move that needs to die already: Non-drummers grabbing a pair of sticks and banging along with the drummer on their kit. Polachek executed easily the most awkward and pointless of these moves I've ever witnessed, turning her back to the crowd just to putter limply on a high tom. It would have looked way cooler if she busted out those castanets again.