Grimes, Crescent Ballroom, 10/8/12

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Grimes @ Crescent Ballroom| 10/8/12

What a difference six months makes. The last time Canadian synth-pop visionary Grimes visited Phoenix, her set was riddled with painful sound problems and an unruly crowd. Rumor had it Grimes herself separated the bathroom fight that resulted in a swarm of cops in the parking lot. This time, however, the sell-out crowd at Crescent Ballroom behaved themselves when treated to a near-flawless sounding set from the biggest art school pop queen since Kate Bush.

Flanked by backing players in gauzy veils and glow bracelets, Claire Boucher took the stage in a tight dark kimono. If it's not too much of a stretch, I thought this was a significant detail. Her wonderful stage presence was incredibly kinetic yet very disciplined, looking much like a martial art. She bounced in place before her vocal entrances, jutting the air with rapid hand movements as she sang, manipulating her synths and samples with measured precision, then pogoing like crazy when the snares dropped.

Of course, singles "Oblivion" and "Genesis" brought the house down, the crowd fist pumping and dancing to Grimes' strangely somber chord sweeps and whisper-glistening vocal melodies. There's a little something for everyone in Grimes' demented K-pop and each of those elements was represented beautifully in the mix: 4AD indie gauze, post-rave sweetness, art-pop glamour, EDM excitement. Before her last song, Boucher sheepishly asked the crowd if she could pass on the boring pageantry of the "encore" and just go ahead and play the last song.

The plug-and-play electro-R&B of Elite Gymnastics was less satisfying. Solo member James Brooks sounded promising at first, doing a slow monotone cover of the Spice Girls' "Say You'll Be There" that had the resolute sadness of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. The rest of his set saw Brooks fumbling with a laptop and an iPad, poorly sequencing his video accompaniment and making lots of between-song non-sequitur ("I was a women's studies major," et al.). Most of his songs were less than mid-tempo but had hard driving drum machines, making his lax stage presence and sheepish apologies even more counterintuitive. The worst was when he asked the crowd if they liked poetry before jumping into a mealy-mouthed spoken word narrative about buying drugs that was barely comprehensible, let alone danceable.

Vancouver-based opening duo Myths, who acted as Grimes' backing band, were much more high-energy and technically interesting, though just as awkward. Their deep synth caterwaul had the aggression of Sleigh Bells or Delta 5, the two singers trading off ethereal harmonies and barbed shouts. One technique they used wonderfully was shouting at a certain rhythm in tandem with their delay pedals, making their vocals sound like emergency sirens. Sometimes there were discrepancies with the snare drums or the synth sequencing, at times resulting in awesome Black Dice cacophony, other times sounding a little sloppy. Again, there was lots of awkward banter and modest posturing, the women of Myths chuckling about managing to play a certain song the right way for the very first time. Listen, I get the whole cultural institution of humility up there in the great white north, but the Canadians are killing it right now. They should own it and love it and, I don't know, just get down with themselves.

Critic's notebook

Last night: Grimes, Elite Gymnastics and Myths at Crescent Ballroom

Favorite audience fashion trends: Platform Nikes, detailed hair buns, rave accessories, stuff with "pussy" written on it.

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