Youth Lagoon at the Loft: Missed Opportunities with Drums at Dallas' Most Underused Venue
The criminally underused Loft, downtown in the Gilley's complex, is a wonderful venue which has big open spaces, a perfectly positioned bar, and a patio totally unmatched among Dallas gig venues. It's incredible that it's barely being used at all. Beyond the twists and turns of employee movement around Dallas' various bookers, fates have conspired to leave one of Dallas' best venues completely on the shelf. While it's away from the Deep Ellum hub and largely inaccessible by DART, that doesn't stop people going to other venues that still have the same problem.
Indeed, a frankly massive turn out for a semi-big name national touring band on a Thursday night was the promoter's (Spune, in this case) reward. The Loft was packed to the point that movement towards the stage was difficult if not impossible, and there was a constant spillover onto the gigantic patio, with its views of the downtown skyline. There was also a great "scene" crossover with Juicy J at Southside Music Hall downstairs, with the crowd for Juicy J amazingly even younger than those at The Loft, and much more sharply dressed. When we got there, opener Majical Cloudz was just finishing up, and I'm afraid to say that their vocalist and the high notes he was striving for are not the best of friends. You can see the throwback '80s aesthetic they're going for, and the commitment to it is admirable, but people forget how powerful a lot of those bands were. Even the Pet Shop Boys had the odd crescendo.
After a short changeover Youth Lagoon, surprisingly beefed up into a four-piece now with the addition of live bass and drums, took to the stage in front of a resplendent backdrop of five windbreakers colorfully lit up. Trevor Powers, who thankfully looks a little older in the flesh than the guy from the promo pictures who looks like he's still in middle school, played his keyboard at a ninety-degree angle to the crowd with his vocals way, way down the mix. Less distorted and reverb-laden then they are on record, his singing was still more an atmospheric instrument than voice, although it didn't necessarily lose anything because of that.
The thing about this gig that puzzled me, and that I spent the entire set (only an hour in length, which felt short) trying to sort out, is the addition of the extra live instrumentation. On record, Youth Lagoon is a pretty interesting quieter record, with a hard focus on the keys. Here, live, the drums and bass was an opportunity to turn that into something pretty cool, to give the keys and guitar a heart and soul they were perhaps lacking sometimes on record. Instead, the drums and bass are written and played so predictably that, while there are good moments (noticeably the encore) when both run free and it sounds like they were written alongside keys and guitar, most of the time it feels like they've been applied to existing songs with little to no thought beyond the general beefing-up of the sound, which is a real shame and an opportunity missed.
Really, once you add a rhythm section to music like this, you're immediately in danger of falling into a lot more clichés than you were before, and rather than retaining what it is about the music which is special and stands out, instead making it sound like the same strain of electro-rock that's been doing the rounds since the 1970s. Given the hooks that Powers was playing on the keyboard and the predictable rhythm section, it reminded me of how MGMT sounds on record (not live, because MGMT are one of the worst live bands imaginable). It feels like, to them, it's just awesome that they've rounded the sound out a bit, but in doing so they've changed their sound so much that they need to think harder about the direction the live interpretations are taking it.
All of this is not to say that the dreamier parts of the set weren't great, which they were. It was the perfect backdrop for looking at The Loft's perfect backdrop, the amazing skyline view. Only three further gigs are slated to be here between now and June 22nd. Someone needs to do something about that. Not me, I'm just the ideas man.