Grimes and Born Gold Rhythm Room Monday, February 27
Montreal-based Claire Boucher, known as Grimes, not only has a stirringly sweet voice that she layers like K-pop frosting but also a penchant for weaving bombastic beats inside ambient textures. Her latest record on 4AD, Visions, manages to embody the label's classic ethereal '80s vapor while also being totally danceable. Doing some preliminary YouTube-ing, I found Boucher's live sampling and looping to be compelling in their own right, like she's aiming for more sheer musicality than the visual spectacle of many electronic acts.
Born Gold, also from Canada, opened the night with classic showmanship. To merely describe the joint-loosening properties of their crunching house beats and overdriven synth lines would do a vast disservice to their show.
Frontman Cecil Frena was poised in front of what looked like an Xbox Kinect attached to an iPad which synchronized his body movements with a series of lights on his leather jacket. The lights included orange palm flashers, arm-length glow beads and an MPC on his chest that cued drum beats. The sidemen engaged the crowd with lit-up Japanese fans, a giant black cloak draped over the all-ages section, hockey goalie helmets banged on with drumsticks and a snow shovel with a sampler taped to it (played like a guitar). The whole thing felt charmingly jerry-rigged, as if Born Gold had to bring their arena-sized antics down to scale.
As Boucher took the stage, she warned of sound problems to come. "All my gear is shitty," she joked, conversing with the sound guy. Her beat machines were pleasantly loud and the accompanying electronics from the Born Gold guys beeped and twitched, but her voice was nowhere to be found in the din.
The crowd cheered early on when her vocals finally became audible in the mix during the serene and thumping "Oblivion," but it didn't last long. Regardless, people danced and swayed even as Boucher visibly cringed multiple times from in-ear monitor feedback.
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Even with physical pain, Boucher maintained some serious professionalism. She never got discouraged or pissed, thus giving those oblivious to the problems no reason to quit having fun. She deftly cued samples and maneuvered around her gear as though nothing was amiss. "I'm gonna wing it," Boucher said before her finale, scrapping the ear pieces. Singing inaudibly even to herself, she valiantly wrapped up in a haze of organ swell. Shaking hands from the stage, Boucher capped off a set that was obviously cut short.
It's strange to see crowd anticipation trump performer execution, especially when the artist is clearly fighting hard to make it work, but few in attendance were going to let unruly pre-amp gain dictate their night. There was a faction of all-agers shouting chants all night that appeared to have no relation to what was happening onstage. A few people confronted a crew of rowdy moshers in a tense "chill out, bro" moment just before Grimes winded into Visions standout "Genesis" and everyone returned to being transfixed. For reasons I did not ascertain, a fire truck and a bunch of cops were calmly stationed outside the venue as the masses went back to their cars.
Thus, despite the tech diffs, there was plenty of spectacle to go around. I just wonder what it would be like to see Born Gold at Cellular-Provider Amphitheater sporting ten bedazzled sampler shovels. Or to see Boucher in a cavernous warehouse, her shitty gear on the floor, vocals soaring and feeling no pain.
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Last Night: Grimes and Born Gold at Rhythm Room.
Overheard in the Crowd: "It's a hipster mosh pit!" - A guy with gauges and a porkpie hat.
Personal Bias: I have a tenuous relationship with electronic music. If my lame distaste for clubs isn't helpful enough, here's a profoundly dorky anecdote: I was watching the Grammys with my 54-year-old father when Deadmau5 performed on a huge DJ riser wearing his signature LED mouse helmet. I didn't give a very helpful answer when my Dad asked me, "Is that guy actually playing any of that music?" I would love to see you try explaining the performative merits of an MPC to a life-long accountant.