I almost didn’t make it out to last night’s Washed Out/Small Black/Pictureplane show at The Vera Project. USF had been booked for a woulda-been-dope show with Forknerian instrumentalist Stag Hare, but that gig fell through at the last minute. While the cancellation was a bummer, the chance to finally scope out the radiant whallop of these three deservedly trending acts made for a satisfactory silver lining.
Denver electronic artist Pictureplane (aka Travis Egedy) has been at the top of my must-see list for awhile now, and I keep returning to his 2009 Dark Rift full-length and the front-to-back greatness of its nocturnal skuzz-soaked bangers. Pictureplane was a keen fit for this bill—his high-volume blissouts are right in line with the tonal philosophy of chillwavers Small Black and Washed Out—though it was immediately apparent how his DIY roots set him apart from his contemporaries on the line-up. Egedy played on the floor, in the midst of a throng of variably interested and disinterested teenagers, his toolkit of electronic noisemakers stripped down to its most essential components (Microkorg, Roland sampler, iPod), and snugly arranged on a collapsible table. His brand of rebooted ‘90s trance is highly addictive and relatively inimitable, and watching him power through a set of predominantly Dark Rift material had me bemoaning the relative scarcity of local scene-approved electronic performers. I understand that kind of “basement techno” scene is a bit more prevalent down in Portland, and in a few other DIY hotspots like LA and Denver. The difference in ethos between Pictureplane and Small Black/Washed Out became even more obvious during the latter bands’ sets, which were rife with near-clichéd attempts at provoking audience interaction. Egedy, who cut his teeth in Denver’s all-ages scene, projected an effortless and welcoming vibe; he let the crowd’s enthusiasm bubble up organically, whereas Small Black and Washed Out had to make old-school “put your hands in the air” appeals from their privileged onstage vantage.
Grant David Keyes
Ernest Greene: chillin'.
While Egedy’s stage persona (floor persona?) was pretty threadbare, there was no shortage of spectacle: some enthused attendees shimmied and flailed throughout his set, making occasional use of a menagerie of props that littered the area in front of his setup (a blonde wig, Christmas lights…you know, the usual). One particularly showy dancer was introduced by Egedy as “an intergalactic daughter of passion,” and this aside—taken with his explanation that “Time Teens” is about time-traveling teenagers from outer space—helped establish a loose celestial narrative that Small Black and Washed Out followed up on. Egedy’s the real deal, and I was pumped to finally catch him in person, even if his weirdly abbreviated version of “Day Glowwed” fell flat.
My thoughts on the night's other entertainers after the jump.
Perhaps the most surprising element of Small Black’s set was how forceful it was. They played loudly and enthusiastically, and were, unquestionably, a band. No shit, I know, but three of the other four “true chillwave” bands out there are solo acts, and the sight of five dudes excitedly rocking out sort of goes against the widespread conception that chillwave bands are lethargic and rudderless (another conversation for another time: chillwave is not the micro-genre many believe it is—it’s a micro-micro-genre, comprised of a mere four bands all capitalizing on one very particular sonic formula. Two of the bands played last night, another comes to town next week. The other has achieved fairly widespread success and needs no introduction).
By the time Washed Out/Ernest Greene took the stage, the Vera was more crowded than I’ve seen it in a long time. His all-too-brief set was comprised largely of cuts from his High Times cassette, but he deigned to include all of the tracks from 2009’s soon-to-be-classic Life of Leisure EP as well. The jittery, caffeinated groove of “Get Up” made for a nice early-set jolt, and the rest of the EP tracks were given extra oomph by an encore backing appearance by Small Black. The aforementioned space narrative was perpetuated by Greene’s between-song banter (“This is my space jam”) and by the ring-shaped strobe which backlit him, its hot circular glow recalling the indelible image of an Apollo rocket’s interstage ring disengaging.
Here's some great video of Small Black and Washed Out teaming up for a take on "Hold Out" from SXSW:
The night’s only misfire was, for me, a letdown of appropriately cosmic proportions. “New Theory” should have been the euphoric high point of Greene’s set, but the high-altitude synth melody of its choruses was puzzlingly absent, leaving only Greene and Small Black vocalists Josh Kolenik and Ryan Heyner’s slightly flat intonations. They quickly recovered with crowd favorite and inevitable-closer “Feel It All Around.” The kids were into it.