Live: Washed Out/Bang Bangz
FITZGERALD’S — 10/7/12: Two Saturdays ago, a much-needed cold front swept through Houston and greeted beloved Georgian Ernest Greene to Fitzgerald’s. Two years after releasing his exquisite debut, Within and Without, Greene returned to Houston to play a much-packed house under his well-known moniker, Washed Out.
Despite my affection for Within and Without and earlier EP Life of Leisure, I had strong reservations about Greene’s ability as a live performer. Various live recordings, specifically a set at Seattle’s iconic KEXP, displayed an agonizing downward shift in the musical quality of Greene’s studio recordings and his live performances.
The torpid mist that enveloped Greene’s graceful arrangements and wonderfully subdued vocals was gone. In its place was an uncharacteristically hurried pace, superfluous musical phrasing, and thin, hollow vocals.
It’s as if Greene was caught between two minds, trying to add life to his subdued creations while retaining the core musical identity that brought him so much success. Perhaps something was lost in these live, studio performances, or perhaps it’s simply due to a lack of polish. Whatever the reason, I held on to the belief that Greene is simply too talented and Within and Without too marvelous to miss an opportunity to hear him in person.
Fitzgerald’s was at capacity, with a very Houston-esque crowd, and as always, the diversity of Houston crowds inspired. All the shades of mankind were present, fully draped in their various social iterations: the obnoxious “Oh my God!” half-drunk sorority girls, the scenesters, and the reserved musical wallflowers were all side-by-side.
By the time Bang Bangz approached the stage, Fitzgerald’s was swarming, and the Houston trio’s brand of dark, echoing electropop quickly piqued the interest of the crowd. On paper, splitting vocal duties between Elizabeth Salazar‘s trip-hop-y vocals and Mario Rodriguez‘s crooning, neo-folk sound would clash, but it worked; it worked beautifully.
After Bang Bangz’ final track, it was unclear whether the crowd was more excited about the set or the prospect of seeing the headliner. If you ever have the opportunity to hear the trio, understand that Bang Bangz represents yet another strong benchmark in the growth of Houston’s music scene.
The crowd stirred in anticipation of Washed Out‘s first Houston appearance since the 2010 KTRU Outdoor Show. Greene and company led off one of their relatively slower tracks, “Far Away”; instantly, you could recognize the difference between the recorded track and its live counterpart. While Within and Without moved at the pace of an unfocused daydream, Greene aimed to enthrall his audience during the live performance. Through the use of an array of rotating LED panels and an impressive fog machine, Washed Out began to immerse the crowd in an Instagram haze.
As the music began, it was clear that the live performance would move away from the hipster lounge music vibe of Greene’s LP and instead favor the more danceable veneer of his initial EPs. The tempered drums from the album recordings were dismissed in favor of a more prominent, EDM-like role for the rhythms. The superfluous musical phrasing of the KEXP set was gone, replaced with more decisive tones that compelled the audience to move in time.
Within the colored fog, heads bobbed, bodies swayed, and hands clapped to music reimagined better suited for a live performance. As Washed Out seamlessly transitioned through his limited musical catalog, it became clear that the performance was a genuine interaction between Greene and his audience. It’s this level of engagement that allowed Saturday’s performance to touch a level uniquely reserved for truly memorable experiences.
In an earlier review, I lauded the simplistic creativity of Within and Without. At their core, songs like “Soft” are just a few fuzzed-out melodies, an uncomplicated beat, and minimalistic vocals. Yet with song after song, Greene demonstrated that the simplicity of his song is part of the enchantment of his album.
Greene took that spark of genius and applied it while reworking each song. Songs were different enough to entice audiences but remained ethereal enough in their construction so as to not weigh them down. The live recordings are simply a disservice, an anemic facade of Greene’s actual live capabilities.
Over the months, Greene has worked and reworked his songs; the result is fantastic. It’s been years since I’ve been so engrossed by a live performance. Stranger still is the idea that such a level of musical engagement comes from a man who produced one of last year’s most subdued albums.
Perhaps the explanation lies within the artist himself. Beyond the boyish grin and reserved demeanor lies a man who desires, more than anything, to show you a good time. A person, when given the opportunity, will create a wonderful experience. END
(Article photo & feature photo by Will Govus.)