Decibel Festival, Days 4 & 5: Nils Frahm, Matthew Dear, Bruno Pronsato, Windy & Carl, Public Lover, Etc.
by Dave Segal
on Mon, Oct 1, 2012 at 4:45 PM
Decibel’s fourth and fifth days couldn’t match its first three, and consequently I suffered from a severe aesthetic comedown, as well as general fatigue. (Will you please sign my petition to scale back Decibel to 4 days?). Still, here are some highlights and medlights [sic].
SATURDAY SEPT. 29 Nils Frahm stole the night, in many people’s ears. I missed the first part of his performance (Orcas’ technical problems with Broadway Performance Hall's infrastructure shifted the time slots; ultimately they never sorted them out and Orcas didn’t play), but he reportedly dazzled by drumming with two mallets on his piano’s body and innards. You could hear a pen click (that was me; sorry!) during Frahm’s gorgeous lyrical impressionism and crystalline melancholy motifs on piano and electric organ. His touch can be extremely feathery or violently percussive; no matter the approach, though, Frahm’s music is wholly inspirational. He provoked the most vigorous standing ovation and cheers I heard all festival.
Following Frahm’s breathtaking show, I flit between Q and Neumos, catching snippets of Dave Aju’s live set and Roman Flügel and Nina Kraviz’s DJ sets. The former’s off-center techno sounded good in Q, but one wished for higher definition to the high and low ends. What I heard of Flügel and Kraviz’s selections was solid, but only catching the early stages of their stints didn’t allow for any definitive conclusions. Matthew Dear’s live performance at Showbox at the Market was beckoning.
Matthew Dear and his three band members looked debonair as hell in black suits, and Dear proved himself to be an exceptional tambourine player. He also wielded guitar and sang like a romantic pop crooner with a range/tone similar to Kevin Ayers and Bill Callahan. (A laptop was kept discreetly off to the side.) The drums were banging and the songs were catchy, leaning heavily on the new Beams and Black City. I prefer Dear in purist techno mode, though, so this show didn’t really move me. It sounded like INXS, if they were really, really good.
Afterhours at Re-bar, former Seattle dynamo Bruno Pronsato went on at 4 am and immediately the bass started crunching in a manner that did not please the artist, not one bit. No matter. Pronsato kept pumping out the tonally weird and fuckworthily rhythmic tracks (he has the most piquant percussion sounds this side of Ricardo Villalobos), each one better than the last. Randy Jones (aka Caro) joined him to sing on the classic tech-house epic “Nobody Calls,” providing a highlight. A pretty full Re-bar crowd kept grinding to Pronsato’s quirky, sexy techno till 5:15 am. Funny to think that in Berlin (Bruno’s base of operations), this would’ve been a warm-up slot.
SUNDAY SEPT. 30
Windy & Carl
Windy & Carl decided to make this Decibel appearance their final concert ever. Holy shit. The Dearborn, Michigan duo—who make the most gentle-souled ambient rock—never really changed over the course of their 20-year career. They simply remained in gorgeous stasis. This final performance began with "Baby Alpaca Wool Pulled Over My Eyes," as Windy cooed “ooooooooo” while she and Carl spurred tingles and goose bumps with plangently beautiful, slowly caressed electric guitars. They followed with a jangly lullaby whose sweet, gradual undulations and jewel-glinting tones tolled as if they had all the time in the world. Windy & Carl’s penultimate song was a morose yet hopeful ballad full of liquid grace. They ended the night with little puffs of discord, which might have been as turbulent as I’ve ever heard them. Big climaxes seem alien to them, but they gamely gave it a shot. This is a band who’s probably never unleashed a crescendo in their lives. Their music exists in a perpetual corona of bliss, devoid of extravagant gestures. While I would’ve liked to see them bow out with a cover of T.Rex’s “Life’s a Gas,” this mild storm did have a suitably valedictorian, composed air to it. Windy & Carl may be over done with live performance, but the couple still runs Stormy Records, which is a great shop. Farewell, W&C, and thanks for all the sublime shivers.
To Neumos. Public Lover (Bruno Pronsato and vocalist Ninca Leece, who are lovers; true story) serves as Bruno’s outlet for more accessible house music. More linear, smoother, and sleeker than his experimental techno excursions, Public Lover’s tracks ride lush keyboard pads, sophisticated funk rhythms, and Leece's sweet, poignant diva=isms to that grown-up realm of house music for people who havent’ been to a rave in 15 years. This is serious baby-making music—literally, as Leece is five months pregnant.
John Talabot was good, I suppose, in a Hot Chip pop-house sort of way, but by this point, my critical faculties had pretty much gone AWOL. The packed, steamy club throbbed to their uplifting, percussively busy cuts, but to my veteran Decibellion ears, this finale lacked the massive climactic punch of some past fests (Alter Ego, Monolake, Supermayer, etc.). Still, at least I got through the entire festival without once hearing anybody utter the word “EDM.”