WHAT: Toro Y Moi, Braids, Cloud Nothings
WHERE: The Troubadour
Last night the fans waiting to get in the Troubadour didn't seem to feel the cold or the wet. Well prepared in hoodies and woolen hats they poured into the venue and excited to catch Toro y Moi and two other bands on their way back from SXSW.
The fact that they weren't clustered around the bar lent some clues as to the median age of the crowd. Instead they snuggled up to the front of the stage and grooved to the early '90s rap jams oozing out of the speakers.
The early arrivals were rewarded when members of the rap group Odd Future (Wolf Gang Kill Them All) arrived to catch the set and were unable to make it to the upstairs to the VIP area. The security had no idea who they were and had no interest in them without ID, but the crowd sure did and swarmed around them chatting about their new album. Delighted to be so warmly received the members of OFWGKTA stayed downstairs and caught the beginning of supporting act Cloud Nothings before heading upstairs.
Cloud Nothings took the stage from the back of the room, possibly because none of them were old enough to be in the VIP lounge either or possibly because they were too punk rock. Hard to say, but my money is on the former. Clad in a uniform of skinny jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers Cloud Nothings looked like any indie rock band, but their sound was anything but typical.
These Cleveland rockers did everything you would want a garage punk band to do. There were viciously fast drums, scathing guitars, high pitched nasal vocals that could jump from a snarl to a croon in a couple bars, and lyrics that when they appeared under the fog of guitar were both despairing (“Nothing's Wrong”), occasionally snarky (“Hey Cool Kid”), but mostly bewildered (“Understand At All.”) Cloud Nothings pulled no punches. They were so loud you couldn't hear yourself think, fortunately the hooks were so catchy, you didn't really want to. Ear drums be damned. This band was worth it.
The mood shifted immediately as soon as Braids took the stage. There was nothing rock 'n' roll about this band. Organized very precisely in a semi circle, the band set up with two women on keyboard and guitar respectively on the outsides and the men on bass and drums on the insides. Very bashfully, lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston thanked everyone for coming in a low voice before beginning the set.
Braids aren't really interested in making pop songs. They are far more interested in pushing the boundaries of what a song is. Their sound centered around the angelic vocals of Standell-Preston and bassist Taylor Smith, punctuated by drums, guitar, and space age whoops and whistles. There were no breaks either. Braids put together a set of music where one song flowed into another effortlessly like a young Animal Collective, trying to find its own voice. Ideas and melodies coagulated together and were brutally dragged apart depending on their whims. Sometimes it succeeded and sometimes it became tedious.
What became abundantly clear was that they had to work on their stage presence. Their first few songs held the audience's attention, but as the set progressed side conversations emerged and grew louder and louder until they appeared to be part of the show. Background visuals or unusual lights or pole dancers would have helped them anchor the audience's attention. Anything that inspired the imagination would have been better than the blank empty screen that they chose.
By the time Toro Y Moi took the stage the room was packed full of people. Unassumingly neat in a charcoal shirt and clear framed glasses, Toro Y Moi (aka Chazwick Bundick) took the stage and smiled at the roar of applause.
Since last year, he had acquired a band including a bassist, guitarist, and drummer and had the confidence of a seasoned professional. And why not? After two years, two albums, critical praise and constant touring in front of adoring audiences he had earned a little swagger.
Opening with “New Beat” Toro y Moi played a set that sounded as if robotic ghosts from the future were playing their old funk records, which is meant as a compliment. It's hard to sound retro and futuristic at the same time. With ghostly vocals that floated over the funky bass beats, smoke drifted on stage and a video of kaleidoscope of colored bubbles cascaded over the band which became a perfect complement to the set. Each song morphed from the one behind it into its own unique shape and color, but the whole thing was swirled in the same direction.
All of the set seemed to be born out of a similar idea of what a groove should be that is completely Bundick's own, and it's one that the audience couldn't resist. Politely bobbing up and down the crowd swayed to the beat, and was justifiably upset when the set ended very early with only a one song encore. Forty five minutes is pretty meager for a man with two albums. One can chalk it up to fatigue, but it was a shame for those who wanted to dance longer. The encore was over before the clock struck eleven and people shuffled out a little disappointed, but with their heads still nodding to an invisible beat.