The Alex Theater
Better Than … nursing a Coachella hangover.
Los Angeles hosts genre-bending experimentalism at dance clubs and festival stages all the time – but for one night at least, hip underground clubgoers weren't the ones with their finger on the pulse. Instead, it was Glendale's Armenian community, who gathered at the Alex Theatre to celebrate one of their own: piano and electronics virtuoso Tigran Hamasyan. Last night's show was something of a homecoming for the scruffy 26-year-old, who moved to the area with his family in 2003.
To start things off, Hamasyan approached the stage nonchalantly, affecting an exaggerated Armenian accent as he joked with the audience. But he didn't indulge them for long, abruptly launching into his characteristic onslaught of head-banging virtuosity.
The performance featured music from his newly released album, Shadow Theater. Its intricate blend of timbres, rhythmic complexity, and melodic references to his Armenian heritage were clearly a hit for this crowd. At the same time, the playful deployment of electronics, loops, and unstoppable dance grooves would have fit in perfectly at Coachella.
Hamasyan's set was anchored by his mind-bending ability to explore and contrast an impressive diversity of styles. This was evident from the opener, which began with Tigran playing solo, twisting his ethereal pianism through layers of loop processing. Then, the rest of the band exploded into the mix with a sudden shift to pounding, bass-heavy rock.
For the rest of the show, he wound through textures that ranged from proggy grooves to a lush reharmonization of Armenian liturgical music, sung by Areni Agbabian. These built to an unforgettable climax in the closer, which reworked a traditional wedding song into raucous dubstep.
Agbabian's crystalline soprano was a key ingredient for many of the music's most powerful moments. Also, bassist Sam Minaie and drummer Arthur Hnatek grounded the group's sound with stunning rhythmic execution. This may be Hamasyan's project, but all four musicians give the band its captivating energy.
And although the words “Jazz Concert” appeared next to his name on the marquee, musical references to Hamasyan's impressive jazz chops were few and far between. Instead, this set tended to show off his incredible multitasking skills. At one point, he looped piano figures over sweeping electronics, all while whistling and performing extended techniques on the piano strings. When the band did stretch out, though – as they did on the encore, which opened with a face-melting solo by Minaie – they certainly didn't sound out of shape.
Personal Bias: The last time I heard Tigran play, I wrote, “I've never heard anything like that before.”
The Crowd: Proud Armenians with a smattering of jazzbros.
Random Notebook Dump: Static, distortion, … dubstep!?
Encore: The Year Is Gone, Revisited