Is a fake genre dead when The New York Times acknowledges it unironically – or when iTunes monetizes it via smiling little “suggested subgenre”? Maybe neither: last night at the El Rey, Toro y Moi and Caribou both (inadvertently?) killed the chill by (accidentally?) rocking the fuck out of “Blessa” and “Odessa” with (awesome!) backing bands.
Last time I saw Toro y Moi, they were just a lonely he. Bright-eyed South Carolina native Chaz Bundick opened for the Ruby Suns in March, armed with only a laptop and fresh-from-undergrad optimism. At that show, the frequent Hipster Runoff protagonist respectfully performed a chillwave duet with his Macbook, creating memorable sound but an unmemorable set.
This time around, Chaz smartly invited friends to the party. With college roommate Andy Woodward playing Travis Barker to his DJ AM (R.I.P) and childhood buddy Patrick Jeffords handling bass/guitar, Causers of This finally felt fully represented.
Peeking out from behind clear Kim Jong-il glasses, Chaz led the trio through “Blessa,” “Low Shoulder,” and a handful of other hits from the debut album, plus two new, sunny tracks affectionately titled “New Song 1” and “New Song 2.” Maybe it was those shimmering, turquoise waves crashing out of the projector, but this new stuff sounds like the perfect soundtrack to start off the season of the sun: less lo-fi chillwave, more clean-cut, dance-friendly pop, and so much more accessible than last summer's slurred reverb and distorted loops.
And while Toro y Moi now sounds better live than on record, Caribou sounds like an entirely different band. Seriously, it seemed like the usual American Apparel-addicted hipsters sold out the show expecting a chill night of contemplative head-bobbing, and didn't quite know how to respond to Dan Snaith's aggressive, drum-crazy live act. Sorry, kids, but these Canadian dudes sort of rock.
The rocking is fairly impressive, considering how geeky Dan + friends appear. They wear tight-fitting pastels, blending in with images of water and rainbows washing colored light across the stage. Variations of the new album's cover flash from the projector as Dan, in socks and a daydream-heavy stare, frolics freely – pressing buttons, changing instruments, and having a surprisingly awesome time singing about heartbreak.
The highlight of the set was “Bowls,” which is my favorite song off the new album. The track is an absolute workout to perform, pitting up to three of the four band members against each other in a drum-off to the death. Sometimes it's a dirty Danger Mouse hip hop beat, or a 2-fast-2-furious Liars throw down, or even a frenetic Battles battle, but never does it sound like its previously recorded doppelganger.
The boys went straight from that brilliant Tibetan-inspired beast into their current single, “Odessa,” where Dan whipped out a fucking recorder, rocked his solo, then immediately dropped the thing in time to make it back to the keyboard. Bad ass, sir. Never will I mock a fourth grader's choice in instrument again.
“Sun” was another standout, mostly because I have no idea how Dan's live voice kept up with his recorded, looped vocals. The man might be some sort of ventriloquist, which is just fine, though multiple Angelenos seemed disgruntled at having to adjust their thin-rimmed glasses from all that involuntary dancing.
Maybe a genre is really dead when an LA Weekly writer can only explain it in terms of bad '80s cinema? Every time I see a dude with a laptop, all I can think of is the curly-haired Italian kid from Fame, arguing with his dad about the merits of electronic music versus a traditional orchestra. Daddy Martelli asks Bruno if he's ever thought of doing “real” music, with a band, and that sassy son responds with, “I prefer my basement – no people.” This seems to be the trend in music right now: anyone with a decent copy of Fruity Loops can bypass social skills or even technical abilities and make something neat. This democratization of art is sort of awesome, but it takes true ability and style to reproduce something neat live.
Caribou and Toro y Moi did just that.