11 Aug, 2012

Washed Out at the Bluebird Theater

There’s something inexplicably refreshing (and admittedly, pretty bizarre) about walking into a venue 10 minutes before a show begins and being one of 20ish fans in the whole house. I was a little dumbfounded when I experienced this, as I knew Washed Out’s show in April at the Bluebird was sold out. I should have realized not a whole lot of people who had tickets were particularly diehard fans of DIY Omaha-based garage-electronic act Icky Blossoms.

When the Blossoms took the stage, guitarist Nik Fackler exclaimed, “I can’t see that well, but it looks like there’s about a million people here!” The meager audience (along with the rest of his bandmates) chuckled softly, and, being unfamiliar with the group, I wondered what brand of ambient grooves this modest underground collective of Nebraskans would play. When they exploded into their first song with gritty bass lines, shouted vocal choruses, blasting drums and chainsaw-esque guitar riffs, I was surprised (to say the least).

Icky Blossoms

Icky Blossoms

Icky Blossoms’ sound is mainly centered around the idea of combining elements of bass-heavy electronic, the energy of hard rock, and pop-infused vocal melodies – anchored by vocalist Sarah Bohling. Despite the smaller-than-deserved audience, Blossoms’ stage presence was undeniably infectious; their raucous energy was transferred to the unfamiliar crowd and even inspired some spirited dancing (perhaps “thrashing” would be a more appropriate word). When the computer tracking many of the synth melodies and electronic soundscapes – which they named “Kevin” after Macauly Culkin’s infamous character from Home Alone – was malfunctioning in the middle of the set, frontman Derek Pressnall explained matter-of-factly that Kevin was “acting a damn fool.” Personally, my favorite moment from Icky Blossoms’ set was their lively performance of “Sex to the Devil”: a thunderous anthem featuring a chanted chorus by the entire band, “Church to god/God to the universe/The universe to art/Art to drugs/Drugs to sex/Sex to the devil.” Along with the thunderous echoes of the drums, the bassist’s dancing looked like he had truly been possessed. In that moment, I was fully convinced and aware of the inescapable power of music.

Icky Blossoms

Icky Blossoms

Icky Blossoms

Icky Blossoms

Their set closed with “Perfect Vision,” a gorgeous track featuring floating vocal melodies, resonant synthesized drums, and the memorable line Pressnall dedicated to Coloradoans (“Nothing to do but get high in the afternoon”). As I awaited Washed Out to commence playing, fans filtered into the Bluebird, and it started to feel more like a concert. As the stage was set up for the headliner, I noticed creator/frontman Ernest Greene casually conversing with a fan about his tour schedule two feet from where I was standing while plugging in his synthesizer(s). In anything but the DIY music scene, that situation would be entirely unheard of.

However, this time when the venue’s background tunes ceased and the stage lights dimmed, an ecstatic collective cheer erupted from the crowd in anticipation. And as soon as Ernest Greene opened with “Eyes Be Closed,” the first track on his LP Within and Without, the audience became a sea of bobbing heads: a bunch of indie kids held hostage by a blissful trance. It remained that way for the entirety of the set.

Although Washed Out began as a solo venture by Greene when he was living in Columbia, SC – recording a collection of songs in his bedroom studio and releasing them on his Myspace – he has now added three additional members for touring, one of them being his wife Blair Sexton Greene and a live drummer and guitarist. When describing Washed Out’s sound, the words “atmospheric,” “glossy,” and “blissed-out” would be appropriate; of course, these words would apply to many chillwave acts in the same arena. With Blair joining his band for live performance, another layer of texture (vocal and aesthetic) is added to Washed Out’s reverb-heavy soundscapes.

Washed Out

Icky Blossoms

Washed Out

Icky Blossoms

The hour-long set that Greene and friends put on was comprised of songs found on the Life of Leisure EP and full-length album Within and Without. From the former, favorites such as “New Theory,” “Get Up,” and “Feel it All Around” – Washed Out’s arguably most popular track that happens to be the theme song for Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s IFC series Portlandia – were all played much to the audience’s delight. A good amount of the material on Within and Without was also performed, yet with analog drums and guitar, Washed Out’s sound was crisper and more refined live than on the records. The band was remarkably tight considering how short of a time they’ve been touring together, and gave the performance depth and harmony between the synthesized and analog components.

Ultimately, the unlikely cohesiveness of Icky Blossoms and Washed Out made this show memorable and also a killer fun time. I truly pity the fool(s) who didn’t attend. Until next time, keep dancing friends.

 Review and photos by Sigmund Steiger. Show on 8/12/12.

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